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(yriental  *^^yespotism 


by  i/Carl(0fr.   VVittfogel 

New  Haven  and  London:  YALE    UNIVERSITY   PRESS 

©    1957    BY   YALE   UNIVERSITY   PRESS,    INC. 








For  permission  to  quote  from  the  following  works  the  author  is  very 
grateful:  H.  Idris  Bell,  Egypt  from  Alexander  the  Great  to  the  Arab 
Conquest,  Oxford,  Oxford  University  Press,  1948;  J.  A.  Dubois,  Hindu 
Manners,  Customs  and  Ceremonies,  tr.  and  ed.  Henry  K.  Beauchamp, 
Oxford,  the  Clarendon  Press,  1943;  Dwight  D.  Eisenhower,  Crusade 
in  Europe,  Garden  City,  Long  Island,  Doubleday,  1948;  Kautilya's 
Arthds&stra,  tr.  R.  Shamasastry,  2d  ed.  Mysore,  Wesleyan  Mission 
Press,  1923;  S.  N.  Miller,  "The  Army  and  the  Imperial  House,"  in 
Cambridge  Ancient  History,  Cambridge,  England,  Cambridge  Uni- 
versity Press,  1939;  Vincent  A.  Smith,  Oxford  History  of  India,  Ox- 
ford, the  Clarendon  Press,  1928;  W.  W.  Tarn,  Hellenistic  Civilization, 
London,  Edward  Arnold,  1927;  Alfred  M.  Tozzer,  Landa's  Relacion 
de  las  Cosas  de  Yucatan,  Papers  of  the  Peabody  Museum  of  American 
Archaeology  and  Ethnology,  Cambridge,  Harvard  University,  1941; 
John  A.  Wilson,  "Proverbs  and  Precepts:  Egyptian  Instructions,"  in 
Ancient  Near  Eastern  Texts,  ed.  James  B.  Pritchard,  Princeton, 
Princeton  University  Press,  1950. 


Two  aspects  of  this  study  of  Oriental  despotism  quickly  aroused 
interest:  the  attempt  to  establish  the  peculiarity  of  a  non-Western 
semi-managerial  system  of  despotic  power  and  the  interpretation  of 
Communist  totalitarianism  as  a  total  managerial,  and  much  more 
despotic,  variant  of  that  system. 

A  third  aspect  has  been  less  commented  on,  but  it  is  largely  respon- 
sible for  whatever  insights  the  inquiry  achieved:  the  use,  of  big  struc- 
tured concepts  for  the  purpose  of  identifying  big  patterns  of  societal 
structure  and  change. 

To  be  sure,  this  method  is  not  new.  It  was  employed  by  Aristotle, 
Machiavelli,  and  the  physiocrats.  It  produced  spectacular  results  when 
Adam  Smith  and  his  successors  erected  a  system  of  economics  that 
considered  the  minutiae  of  the  workshop  and  market  within  the  con- 
text of  the  over-all  economic  and  social  order. 

Then  followed  years  of  indifference.  But  today  the  method  is  again 
coming  to  the  fore.  Comprehensive  analytic  tools  are  needed  for  the 
understanding  of  our  complex  national  and  international  industrial 
economy.  They  are  vital  for  a  realistic  appraisal  of  the  complex 
operations  of  the  Communist  world.  Today  the  economists  are  clamor- 
ing for  a  new  macro-eConomy.  And  social  scientists  in  other  disciplines 
are  as  eager  to  find  what  may  be  called  macro-analytic  methods  of 

The  macro-analytic  revolution  is  the  most  promising  development 
in  our  present  intellectual  crisis.  But  it  will  be  successful  only  if  we 
face  empirical  reality  in  its  geo-historical  depth,  and  if  we  include  in 
our  arsenal  the  tested  big  concepts  of  our  intellectual  forebears. 
Efforts  to  appraise  the  phenomena  of  Communist  totalitarianism,  such 
as  collective  leadership  and  autocracy,  power  economy  and  subsistence 
economy,  self-perpetuation  and  self-liquidation,  will  do  more  harm 
than  good  if  we  rely  primarily  on  the  experiences  of  multicentered 
societies  and  neglect  the  only  major  precedent  of  enduringly  success- 
ful total  power:  Oriental  despotism.  Efforts  to  explain  the  agrarian 
crises  in  the  USSR  and  Communist  China  will  yield  problematic  re- 
sults if  we  view  Soviet  agriculture  in  terms  of  American  agriculture 
and  Chinese  agriculture  in  terms  of  Soviet  agriculture.  Such  efforts 
are  macro-analytic  in  intent,  but  meso-analytic  in  substance.  They 
improperly  generalize  from  a  limited,  and  inadequate,  empirical  base. 

A  genuinely  macro-analytic  inquirer  will  carefully  utilize  the  theo- 
retical heritage  of  his  field  just  as  does  the  engineer  who  endeavors  to 



exhaust  the  creative  possibilities  of  his  craft  on  the  earth,  under  the 
sea,  and  in  space.  A  scientist  who  thinks  he  must  invent  all  his  tools 
anew  may  well  enter  the  research  situation  with  an  empty  mind — but 
he  will  also  leave  it  with  an  empty  mind.  Properly  applied,  the  growth 
potential  of  a  reality-tested  big  concept  is  enormous.  Rooted  in  past 
experiences  and  ideas,  it  has  every  chance  to  develop  with  the  new 
empirical  data  that  it  is  likely  to  uncover. 

Macro-analytical  principles  guided  me  when,  in  the  early  thirties, 
I  tried  to  determine  the  peculiarity  of  Chinese  economics  as  part  of 
a  peculiar  Chinese  (and  "Asiatic")  society.  They  guided  me  when,  in 
the  early  forties,  I  tried  to  determine  the  difference  between  China's 
conquest  dynasties  and  the  typically  Chinese  dynasties.  They  guided 
me  when  I  tried  to  determine  the  difference  between  Oriental  despot- 
ism, the  multicentered  societies  of  the  West  (and  Japan),  and  Com- 
munist (and  Fascist)  totalitarianism.  These  same  principles  continue 
to  guide  me  in  my  comparative  study  of  total  and  totalitarian  power 

The  present  volume  reproduces  the  original  text  of  Oriental 
Despotism  with  a  few  additions  and  corrections  from  the  third  Ameri- 
can printing  and  the  German  edition.  For  his  work  in  the  preparation 
of  the  German  edition  I  wish  to  thank  Frits  Kool,  Amsterdam,  with 
whom  I  discussed  many  of  its  problems  in  an  extended  correspondence. 

The  original  study  received  friendly  support  from  many  institu- 
tions and  persons.  I  am  profoundly  indebted  to  the  Far  Eastern  and 
Russian  Institute  of  the  University  of  Washington  for  enabling  me 
to  engage  in  the  diverse  research  that  constitutes  the  factual  basis  of 
the  present  book.  As  co-sponsor  of  the  Chinese  History  Project,  New 
York,  Columbia  University  provided  facilities  of  office  and  library. 
For  a  number  of  years  the  Rockefeller  Foundation  supported  the 
over-all  project  of  which  this  study  is  an  integral  part.  Grants  given 
by  the  American  Philosophical  Society  and  the  Wenner-Gren  Founda- 
tion for  Anthropological  Research  made  possible  the  investigation  of 
special  aspects  of  Oriental  despotism. 

Scholars  from  various  disciplines  have  encouraged  my  efforts.  With- 
out attempting  to  list  them  all,  I  mention  in  gratitude  Pedro  Armillas, 
Pedro  Carrasco,  Chang  Chung-li,  Nathan  Glazer,  Waldemar  Gurian, 
Karl  Menges,  Franz  Michael,  George  P.  Murdock,  Angel  Palerm, 
Julian  H.  Steward,  Donald  W.  Treadgold,  Hellmut  Wilhelm,  and 
C.  K.  Yang.  I  have  been  privileged  to  discuss  crucial  problems  with 
two  outstanding  students  of  modern  totalitarianism:  Bertram  D. 
Wolfe  and  the  late  Peter  Meyer. 


In  the  field  of  the  Muslim  and  pre-Muslim  East  I  was  particularly 
aided  in  my  researches  by  Gerard  Salinger.  In  the  realm  of  Chinese 
studies  I  drew  upon  the  knowledge  of  Chaoying  Fang,  Lienche  Tu 
Fang,  Lea  Kisselgoff,  and  Tung-tsu  Chu,  all  of  whom  were,  at  the 
time  of  writing,  on  the  staff  of  the  Chinese  History  Project.  Bertha 
Gruner  carefully  typed  and  checked  the  first  draft  of  an  analysis  of 
Russian  society  and  the  Marxist-Leninist  attitude  toward  Oriental 
despotism,  intended  originally  as  a  separate  publication  but  eventual- 
ly included  in  significant  part  in  the  present  volume.  Ruth  Ricard 
was  indefatigable  in  preparing  the  manuscript,  which  offered  many 
problems  of  form,  source  material,  and  bibliography. 

An  inquiry  into  the  nature  of  bureaucratic  totalitarianism  is  bound 
to  encounter  serious  obstacles.  Among  those  who  helped  in  overcom- 
ing them,  two  persons  must  be  mentioned  particularly.  George  E. 
Taylor,  director  of  the  Far  Eastern  and  Russian  Institute  of  the  Uni- 
versity of  Washington,  never  wavered  in  his  understanding  of  my 
endeavors  and  in  his  support  for  what  seemed  at  times  beyond  hope 
of  completion.  My  wife  and  closest  collaborator,  Esther  S.  Goldfrank, 
shared  every  step  in  the  struggle  for  the  clarification  of  basic  scientific 
truths  and  human  values. 

It  was  my  belief  in  these  values  that  put  me  behind  the  barbed 
wire  of  Hitler's  concentration  camps.  My  final  thoughts  go  to  those 
who,  like  myself,  were  passing  through  that  inferno  of  total  terror. 
Among  them,  some  hoped  for  a  great  turning  of  the  tables  which 
would  make  them  guards  and  masters  where  formerly  they  had  been 
inmates  and  victims.  They  objected,  not  to  the  totalitarian  means,  but 
to  the  ends  for  which  they  were  being  used. 

Others  responded  differently.  They  asked  me,  if  ever  opportunity 
offered,  to  explain  to  all  who  would  listen  the  inhumanity  of  totalitar- 
ian rule  in  any  form.  Over  the  years  and  more  than  I  can  express, 
these  men  have  inspired  my  search  for  a  deeper  understanding  of  the 
nature  of  total  power. 


New  York}  September  1962 




Chapter  i:  The  Natural  Setting  of  Hydraulic  Society 

A.  Changing  Man  in  Changing  Nature 

B.  The  Historical  Place  of  Hydraulic  Society 

C.  The  Natural  Setting 
i.  Historical  Conditions  Being  Equal,  a  Major  Natural  Difference 

the  Possible  Cause  of  Decisive  Institutional  Differences 

2.  Several  Natural  Factors  Essential  to  Farming  ,a 

3.  Some  Essential  Factors  Defy  Compensating  Action;  Others  Respond 
More  Readily 

4.  The  Specific  Qualities  of  Water  ,, 
D.  Must  the  Hydraulic  Potential  Be  Actualized?  15 

1.  An  Open  Historical  Situation — but  Recognizable  Patterns  of  Re- 
sponse jk 

2.  The  Recognized  Advantages  of  Irrigation  Agriculture  17 

a.  If  ...  ,  then  ...  t* 

b.  Arid,  Semi-arid,  and  Humid  Areas:  Hypothetical  Patterns  of  Inter- 
action and  Growth  jd 


Chapter  2:  Hydraulic   Economy — a   Managerial   and   Genuinely   Political 

Economy  22 

A.  Division  of  Labor  in  Hydraulic  Agriculture  23 
1.  Preparatory   and   Protective    Operations    Separated   from   Farming 

Proper  2a 

a.  Large-scale  Preparatory  Operations    (Purpose:   Irrigation)  23 

b.  Large-scale  Protective  Operations    (Purpose:   Flood  Control)  23 
2.  Cooperation  25 

a.  Dimension  25 

b.  Integration  26 

c.  Leadership  26 

d.  Hydraulic  Leadership — Political  Leadership  27 

B.  Heavy  Water  Works  and  Heavy  Industry  27 

C.  Calendar  Making  and  Astronomy — Important  Functions  of  the  Hy- 
draulic Regime  29 

D.  Further  Construction  Activities  Customary  in  Hydraulic  Societies  30 

1.  Nonagrarian  Hydraulic  Works  oQ 

a.  Aqueducts  and  Reservoirs  Providing  Drinking  Water  30 

b.  Navigation  Canals  ^i 

2.  Large  Nonhydraulic  Constructions  34 
a.  Huge  Defense  Structures  34 



b.  Roads  37 

c.  Palaces,  Capital  Cities,  and  Tombs  39 

d.  Temples  40 

E.  The  Masters  of  Hydraulic  Society — Great  Builders  42 
1.  The  Aesthetic  Aspect  42 

a.  Uneven  Conspicuousness  42 

b.  The  Monumental  Style  49 

c.  The  Institutional  Meaning  44 

F.  The  Bulk  of  All  Large  Nonconstructional  Industrial  Enterprises  Man- 
aged also  by  the  Hydraulic  Government  45 

1.  A  Comparative  View  45 

2.  The  Power  of  the  Hydraulic  State  over  Labor  Greater  Than  That 

of  Capitalist  Enterprises  47 

G.  A  Genuine  and  Specific  Type  of  Managerial  Regime  48 

Chapter  3:  A  State  Stronger  than  Society  49 

A.  Nongovernmental  Forces  Competing  with  the  State  for  Societal  Lead- 
ership 49 

B.  The  Organizational  Power  of  the  Hydraulic  State  50 

1.  The  Great  Builders  of  Hydraulic  Society — Great  Organizers  50 

2.  Fundamentals    of    Effective    Organization:    Counting    and  Record 
Keeping  5o 

3.  Organizational  and  Hydraulic  Management  52 

a.  The  Organizational  Task  Inherent  in  Large  Constructions,   Hy- 
draulic and  Otherwise  52 

b.  Hydraulic  Management  52 

4.  The  Organization  of  Quick  Locomotion  and  Intelligence  54 

5.  The  Organizational  Pattern  of  Warfare  in  Hydraulic  Society  59 

a.  Monopolization  and  Coordination  59 

b.  Training  and  Morale  60 

c.  Organization  of  Supplies  61 

d.  Planned  Warfare  and  Military  Theory  62 

e.  Numbers  63 

f.  Percentages  66 

C.  The  Acquisitive  Power  of  the  Hydraulic  State  67 

1.  Organizational  and   Bureaucratic  Prerequisites  67 

2.  Labor  on  the  Public  Fields  and  /or  the  Land  Tax  68 

3.  Universality  and  Weight  of  the  Hydraulic  Tax  Claim  70 

4.  Confiscation  72 

D.  Hydraulic  Property — Weak  Property  78 

1.  Four  Ways  of  Weakening  Private  Property  78 

2.  Hydraulic  Laws  of  Inheritance:  the  Principle  79 

3.  The  Application  79 

4.  The  Effect  80 
a.  On  Regulated  Villages  80 


b.  On  Holders  of  Small  Private  Property  80 

c.  On  Holders  of  Large  Private  Property  80 

5.  Pertinent  Western  Developments  81 

a.  The  Democratic  City  States  of  Ancient  Greece  81 

b.  The  United  States  after  the  War  of  Independence  81 

c.  A  Spectacular  Contrast:  the  Strength  of  Landed  Property  in  Late 
Feudal  and  Postfeudal  Europe  81 

6.  Different  Social  Forces  Opposed  to  Proprietary  Perpetuities  82 

a.  Small  and  Mobile  Property  82 

b.  The  States  of  Feudal  and  Postfeudal  Europe  83 

c.  Hydraulic  Absolutism  Succeeded  Where  the  States  of  Occidental 
Feudalism  and  Absolutism  Failed  84 

7.  The  Organizational  Impotence  of  Hydraulic  Property  Holders  85 

E.  The  Hydraulic  Regime  Attaches  to  Itself  the  Country's  Dominant  Re- 
ligion 87 

1.  Sole,  Dominant,  and  Secondary  Religions  87 

2.  Religious  Authority  Attached  to  the  Hydraulic  State  87 

a.  The  Hydraulic  Regime — Occasionally  (quasi-)  Hierocratic  87 

b.  The  Hydraulic  Regime — Frequently  Theocratic  90 

c.  Agrarian  Despotism  Always  Keeps  the  Dominant  Religion  Inte- 
grated in  Its  Power  System  96 

d.  The  Changing  Position  of  the  Dominant  Priesthood  in  Hydraulic 
Society  99 

F.  Three  Functional  Aspects,  but  a  Single  System  of  Total  Power  100 

Chapter  4:  Despotic  Power — Total  and  Not  Benevolent  101 

A.  Total  Power  101 

1.  Absence  of  Effective  Constitutional  Checks  101 

2.  Absence  of  Effective  Societal  Checks  102 

a.  No  Independent  Centers  of  Authority  Capable  of  Checking  the 
Power  of  the  Hydraulic  Regime  J02 

b.  The  So-called  Right  of  Rebellion  103 

c.  Election  of  the  Despot — No  Remedy  104 

d.  Intragovernmental  Influences:  Absolutism  and  Autocracy  106 

3.  Laws  of  Nature  and  Patterns  of  Culture — No  Effective  Checks  Either  107 

B.  The  Beggars'  Democracy  108 

1.  The  Managerial  Variant  of  the  Law  of  Changing  Administrative 
Returns  109 

a.  Hydraulic  Agriculture:  the  Law  of  Increasing  Administrative  Re- 
turns 109 

b.  The  Law  of  Balanced  Administrative  Returns  109 

c.  The  Law  of  Diminishing  Administrative  Returns  1 10 

d.  Ideal  Curve  and  Reality  of  Changing  Returns  110 

e.  Nonhydraulic  Spheres  of  Political  Economy  110 

2.  The  Power  Variant  of  the  Law  of  Changing  Administrative  Returns  111 
a.  Imperative  and  Worth-while  Efforts  m 



b.  The  Forbidding  Cost  of  Total  Social  Control  in  a  Semimanagerial 

c.  Total  Social  Control  Not  Necessary  for  the  Perpetuation  of  Agro- 
managerial  Despotism  112 

3.  Sectors  of  Individual  Freedom  in  Hydraulic  Society  113 

a.  Limitations  of  Managerial  Control  113 

b.  Limitations  of  Thought  Control  114 

4.  Groups  Enjoying  Varying  Degrees  of  Autonomy  115 

a.  Less  Independence  than  Frequently  Assumed  116 

i.  The  Family  116 

ii.  The  Village  117 

iii.  The  Guilds  120 

iv.  Secondary  Religions  121 

b.  Genuine  Elements  of  Freedom  Nevertheless  Present  122 

5.  Conclusion  124 

a.  Politically  Irrelevant  Freedoms  124 

b.  A  Beggars'  Democracy  125 
C.  Hydraulic  Despotism — Benevolent  Despotism?  126 

1.  Total  Power — for  the  Benefit  of  the  People?  126 

2.  The  Claim  and  the  Reality  126 

a.  Operational  Necessity  Not  to  Be  Confused  with  Benevolence  126 

b.  The  Rationality  Coefficient  of  Hydraulic  Society  126 

c.  Whose  Rationality  Coefficient?  127 

3.  The  Rulers'  Rationality  Optimum  Prevails  128 

a.  Necessity  and  Choice  in  the  Policy  of  the  Hydraulic  Regime  128 

b.  The  Rulers'  Managerial  Optimum  128 

c.  The  Rulers'  Consumptive  Optimum  129 

d.  The  Rulers'  Judicial  Optimum  131 

4.  "Absolute  Power  Corrupts  Absolutely"  133 

5.  The  Rulers'  Publicity  Optimum  133 

6.  The  Two-fold  Function  of  the  Benevolence  Myth  134 

a.  It  Stresses  the  Long-range  Interest  of  the  Despotic  Regime  134 

b.  It  Weakens  Potential  Opposition  135 

c.  The  Presence  of  Good  Sovereigns  and  Just  Officials  Fails  to  Upset 
the  Prevailing  Trend  135 

7.  Hydraulic  Despotism:  Benevolent  in  Form,  Oppressive  in  Content     136 

Chapter  5:  Total  Terror — Total  Submission — Total  Loneliness  137 

A.  Autonomous  Man  under  Total  Power  137 

B.  Terror  Essential  for  Maintaining  the  Rulers'  Rationality  Optimum     137 

1.  The  Need  137 

2.  Its  Official  Recognition:  "Punishment  Is  the  Kingl"  138 

3.  The  Morphology  of  Violence  139 

a.  Integrated  versus  Fragmented  Patterns  of  Violence  139 

b.  Controlled  versus  Uncontrolled  Violence  140 

C.  The  Terror  of  Hydraulic  Despotism  140 
1.  Its  Physical  Aspect  141 


2.  Its  Psychological  Aspect  141 

a.  Unpredictability  j^j 

b.  Lenin:  "...  power  not  limited  by  any  laws"  141 

c.  Lawless  Terror  and  Terror  by  Law  142 

3.  "Government  by  Flogging"  143 

a.  Terror  in  Managerial  Procedures  143 

b.  Terror  in  Fiscal  Procedures  143 

c.  Terror  in  Judicial  Procedures  144 

d.  Western    Correspondences    Noteworthy    for    Their    Temporary 
Strength  and  Their  Limitations  145 

4.  Varying  Configurations  of  Terror  in  the  Hydraulic  World  147 

a.  Relatively  Lenient  Developments  147 

b.  Average  and  Excessive  Developments  148 

D.  Total  Submission  149 

1.  Man's  Response  to  the  Threat  of  Total  Terror  149 
a.  The  Postulate  of  Common  Sense  and  the  Virtue  of  Good  Citizen- 
ship: Obedience  149 

2.  Preparation  for  Total  Obedience:  Disciplinary  Education  151 

3.  The  Great  Symbol  of  Total  Submission:  Prostration  152 

E.  Total  Loneliness  154 

1.  Loneliness  Created  by  Fear  154 

a.  The  Ruler:  Trust  No  One!  155 

b.  The  Official:  Eternal  Suspicion  155 

c.  The  Commoner:  the  Fear  of  Being  Trapped  by  Involvement         156 

2.  The  Alienation  Potential  of  Total  Power  156 

3.  Every-day  Adjustments  157 

4.  Total  Loneliness  in  the  Hour  of  Doom  157 

Chapter  6:  The  Core,  the  Margin,  and  the  Submargin  of  Hydraulic  So- 
cieties 161 

A.  Preliminary  Stock-taking  in  the  Middle  of  the  Journey  16 1 

1.  Some  Basic  Results  16 1 

2.  Three  Problems  Deserving  Further  Investigation  161 

3.  Problems  of  Hydraulic  Density  162 

B.  Hydraulic  Core  Areas  162 

1.  How  Continuous  Is  the  Hydraulic  System  of  a  Given  Hydraulic 
Area?  162 

2.  How  Great  Is  the  Economic  and  Political  Weight  of  a  Given  Hy- 
draulic Economy?  163 

3.  How  Strong  Is  the  Second  Major  Element  of  Hydraulic  Operation: 
Flood  Control?  165 

4.  Compact  and  Loose  Hydraulic  Societies  165 

5.  The  Great  Agromanagerial  Empires — Usually  Loose  Hydraulic  So- 
cieties 166 

6.  Degrees  of  Hydraulic  Density  and  Degrees  of  Bureaucratic  Density  167 

a.  The  Principle  167 

b.  Changing  Bureaucratic  Density  of  a  Hydraulic  Territory  169 


7.  Hydraulically  Concerned   and   Hydraulically   Unconcerned   Masters 

of  Hydraulic  Society  169 

8.  Periods  of  Agromanagerial  Adjustment,  Degeneration,  and  Restora- 
tion 171 

9.  The  Staying  Power  of  Deteriorated  Agromanagerial  Hydraulic  So- 
cieties 172 

C.  The  Margin  of  the  Hydraulic  World  173 

1.  Varying  Operational  and  Bureaucratic  Density  Patterns  in  Marginal 
Areas  of  the  Hydraulic  World  173 

2.  The   Growth  of  Proprietary  Forces  176 

3.  The  Institutional  Staying  Power  of  Marginal  Oriental   Despotism     177 

a.  Bureaucratic  Interests  Favoring  the  Reproduction  of  the  Despotic 
Order  177 

b.  Late  Byzantium:  Marasmus,  rather  than  Creative  Transformation  178 

c.  The  Extraordinary  Staying  Power  of  Tsarist  Bureaucracy  179 

d.  Ottoman  Turkey  181 

e.  Diversified  Final  Evolutions  181 

4.  Marginal  Agrarian   Despotisms  Containing  Conspicuous   Hydraulic 
Elements  182 

a.  The  Liao  Empire  182 

b.  Maya  Society  184 

5.  "Loose  2"  or  "Marginal  1"?                                                                       188 

6.  Fragmenting  Patterns  of  Inheritance  and  a  Government-Dependent 
Dominant  Religion  188 

7.  Location,    Genesis,    and  Institutional    Vulnerability    of    Marginal 
Agrarian  Despotisms  igi 

a.  Location 

b.  Genesis 

c.  Institutional  Vulnerability  194 

D.  The  Submarginal  Zone  of  the  Hydraulic  World  195 

1.  The  Phenomenon 

2.  Cases 

a.  Protohistorical  Greece 

b.  Early  Rome  197 

c.  Japan  ig7 

d.  Pre-Mongol  (Kievan)  Russia  201 

3.  Comment  203 

E.  Societies  Which  Cross  the  Institutional  Divide  204 
1.  Nonagricultural  Peoples  adopting  and  transmitting  Power    Devices 

of  Agrarian  Despotism  204 

a.  Such  Devices  Not  Necessary  for,  but  Compatible  with,  Nomadic 

b.  The    Brittleness  of   Orientally   Despotic   Power   at    the   Pastoral 
Fringe  of  the  Hydraulic  World  206 

2.  Agricultural  Civilizations  Crossing  the  Institutional  Divide  207 

a.  Greece  207 





b.  Rome  208 
i.  The  Rise  of  a  Hellenistic  Version  of  Oriental  Despotism  208 

ii.  The  Fall  of  Agromanagerial  Despotism  in  Western  Rome  212 

c.  Europe  after  476  213 

i.  Unsuccessful  Attempts  to  Rule  Absolutely  213 

ii.  The  "Unparalleled"  Case  of  the  Domesday  Book  213 

d.  Spain  214 

i.  Oriental  Conquest  214 

ii.  The  Reconquista  216 

e.  The  Introduction  of  Oriental  Despotism  into  Russia  219 

F.  Structure  and  Change  in  the  Density  Patterns  of  the  Oriental  World  225 

1.  Structure  225 

a.  Density  Subtypes  of  Hydraulic  Society  225 

b.  Differing  Frequencies  of  Occurrence  226 

c.  Decreasing  Importance  of  Hydraulic  Economy  Proper  226 

2.  Capacity  for  Societal  Change  227 

Chapter  7:  Patterns  of  Proprietary  Complexity  in  Hydraulic  Society  228 

A.  The  Human  Relation  Called  "Property"  228 

B.  Objects  of  Property  Rights  229 

C.  The  Potential  Scope  of  Proprietary  Rights  229 

D.  Three  Major  Complexity  Patterns  in  Hydraulic  Civilizations  230 

1.  Simple,  Semicomplex,  and  Complex  Patterns  of  Property  230 

2.  Supplementary  Remarks  231 

a.  "Simple  I"  and  "Simple  II"  231 

b.  Proprietary  Complexity  and  Hydraulic  Density  232 

E.  Nonspecific  and  Specific  Aspects  in  the  Proprietary  Conditions  of 
Tribal  Hydraulic  Societies  232 

1.  Nonspecific  Aspects  232 

2.  Specific  Aspects  233 

3.  Simple  I  .  .  .  237 

F.  Patterns  of  Property  in  State-centered  Simple  Hydraulic  Societies  238 

1.  Statehood  versus  Primitive  Government  238 

2.  Steps  in  the  Professionalizing  of  Government  239 

a.  Chagga  Chieftainship  and  the  State  of  Ancient  Hawaii  239 

b.  Proprietary  Consequences  242 

3.  Simple  Patterns  of  Property  in  Land,  Industry,  and  Commerce  243 

4.  Variants  of  Simple  Patterns  of  Hydraulic  Property  and  Society  245 

a.  Hawaii  245 

b.  Inca  Peru  246 

c.  Pharaonic  Egypt  250 

d.  Ancient  China  251 

e.  Sumer  253 

5.  Origins  of  Bureaucratic  Capitalism  255 

6.  The  Hydraulic  Sponge  256 


G.  Semicomplex  Patterns  of  Hydraulic  Property  and  Society  258 

1.  Occurrences  258 

a.  Pre-Conquest  Meso-America  258 

b.  India,  China,  the  Near  East  260 

c.  Byzantium  and  Russia  260 

2.  How  Powerful  Could  the  Representatives  of  Private  Mobile  and  Ac- 
tive Property  Become  in  Semicomplex  Hydraulic  Societies?  262 

a.  Miscellaneous  Developments  263 

b.  Hindu  India  264 

c.  Ancient  Mesopotamia  267 

d.  Conclusions  269 
H.  Complex  Patterns  of  Property  in  Hydraulic  Society  270 

1.  Hydraulic  Landlordism,  Past  and  Present  270 

2.  Government-controlled  and  Private  Land  in  Hydraulic  Society  271 

a.  Types  of  Government-controlled  Land  271 

i.  Government-managed  Land  271 

ii.  Government-regulated  Land  272 

iii.  Government-assigned  Land  273 

b.  Private  Land  275 

i.  Definitions  275 

ii.  Origins  275 

c.  Types  of  Landownership  275 

i.  Peasant  Landownership  275 

ii.  Bureaucratic  Landlordism  276 

iii.  Other  Social  Groups  277 

iv.  Absentee  Landlordism   (the  General  Trend)  277 

v.  Absentee  Landlordism   (Traditional  Russia)  278 

vi.  Borderline  Cases  of  Regulated  and  Private  Land  Tenure  279 

d.  The  Extent  of  Private  Landownership  in  Various  Subtypes  of 
Hydraulic  Society  280 

i.  Simple  Hydraulic  Societies  280 

ii.  Semicomplex  Hydraulic  Societies  281 

iii.  Complex  Patterns  of  Hydraulic  Property  and  Society  286 

3.  How  Free  Is  Private  Landed  Property  in  Hydraulic  Society?  291 

a.  Despotically  Imposed  versus  Democratically  Established   Restric- 
tions of  Private  Property  291 

b.  Restrictions  Imposed  upon   the  Freedom  to  Enjoy,  to  Use,  to 
Transfer,  and  to  Organize  292 

I.  The  Effect  of  Private  Property  on  Hydraulic  Society  293 

1.  The  Perpetuation  of  Hydraulic  Society  Depends  on  the  Govern- 
ment's Maintenance  of  its  Property  Relations  293 

2.  The  Growing  Complexity  of  Property  and  the  Growing  Complexity 

of  Society  294 

3.  Small  Property  Offers  a  Considerable  Economic  Incentive,  but  No 
Political  Power  294 

a.  Incentives  Inherent  in  Private  Possession  and  Ownership  294 

b.  The  Beggars'  Property  295 


4.  Private  Commercial  Property  Politically  Inconsequential  Even  When 
Permitted  to  Become  Large  297 

5.  Problems  of  Wealth  within  the  Governing  Class  297 

a.  Bureaucratic  Hedonism  298 

b.  Bureaucratic  Landlordism  and  Capitalism  298 

6.  Conclusions  Leading  to  New  Questions  300 

a.  Hydraulic  Property:  Revenue  Property  versus  Power  Property  300 

b.  The   Importance — and   Limitation — of   Private   Property   in   De- 
termining Class  Differentiations  within  Hydraulic  Society  300 

Chapter  8:  Classes  in  Hydraulic  Society  301 

A.  The  Need  for  a  New  Sociology  of  Class  301 

B.  Class  Structure  in  Hydraulic  Society  302 

1.  The  Key  Criterion:  Relation  to  the  State  Apparatus  302 

2.  The  Multiple  Conditioning  of  Social  Subsections  304 

C.  The  Rulers  305 

1.  The  Men  of  the  Apparatus  305 

a.  The  Basic  Vertical  Structure  305 

i.  The  Ruler  and  the  Court  305 

ii.  The  Ranking  Officials  306 

iii.  The  Underlings  307 

b.  Horizontal  Developments  307 

i.  Satraps  308 

ii.  Subordinate  Princes,  Curacas,  Rajas  309 

iii.  Gradations  of  Power  in  Modern  Totalitarian  States  310 

2.  Subclasses  Attached  to  the  Men  of  the  Apparatus  311 

a.  Attachment  Based  on  Kinship  311 

i.  The  Ruling  House  311 

ii.  The  Bureaucratic  Gentry  312 

iii.  The  Relatives  of  Civil  Underlings  and  Rank-and-File  Soldiers  316 

b.  Attachment  Based  on  Semi-,  Quasi-,  or  Pre-Official  Status  317 

i.  Secular  Semi-officials   (Commercial  and  Fiscal  Agents)  317 
ii.  Religious  Quasi-officials  (Functionaries  of  the  Dominant  Reli- 
gion) 318 
iii.  Persons  Occupying  a  Pre-official  Status   (Trainees  and  Degree- 
holding  Candidates  for  Office)  319 
iv.  A  Comparative  Note   (Professional  Ideologists  in  the  USSR)  319 

c.  Subdivided,  but  Still  an  Entity  320 

D.  The  Ruled  321 

1.  Property-based  Subsections  of  Commoners  321 

2.  Slaves  322 
E.  Modifications  of  Class  Structure  That  Occur  in  Conquest  Societies  324 

1.  Conquest  Involving  the  Formation  of  Stratified  Societies    (Primary 
Conquest)  324 

2.  Conquest   Involving   the   Further   Differentiation   of   Stratified   So- 
cieties  (Secondary  Conquest)  325 


3.  Class  Modifications  in  Hydraulic  Conquest  Dynasties  326 

a.  The  Chinese  Did  Not  Always  Absorb  Their  Conquerors  326 

b.  Devices  for  Preserving  the  Conquerors'  Hegemony  326 

c.  Duplications  of  Class  327 

F.  Many  Social  Antagonisms  but  Little  Class  Struggle  327 

1.  Social  Antagonism  and  Class  Struggle  327 

2.  Paralysis  of  Class  Struggle  by  Total  Power  328 

G.  Antagonism    between    Members    of   Different    Subsections  of    Com- 
moners 329 

H.  The  "People"  versus  the  Men  of  the  Apparatus  331 

I.    Social  Conflicts  within  the  Ruling  Class  334 

1.  Ranking  Officials  versus  Underlings  335 

a.  Bureaucratic  Competition  336 

a.  Patterns  of  Competition  Different  in  Different  Societies  336 

b.  Bureaucratic  Competition  in  Hydraulic  Society  337 

3.  Civil  versus  Military  Officials  338 

a.  The  Autocrat  and  the  Army  338 

b.  Civil  versus  Military  Officials  339 

4.  The  Bureaucratic  Activists  versus  the  Bureaucratic  Gentry  340 

5.  Conflicts  between  the  Autocrat  and  Other  Members  of  the  Ruling 
Class  343 

a.  The  Autocrat  versus  His  Relatives  343 

i.  Blood  Relatives  343 

ii.  Affinals  344 

b.  The  Autocrat  versus  the  Ranking  Officials  345 

i.  Once  More  the  Problem  of  Autocracy  345 
ii.  Human    (Social)    Relations   Expressed    through    Institutional 

Arrangements  345 

6.  Autocratic  Methods  of  Controlling  the  Bureaucratic  Personnel  346 

a.  The  Ruler's  Control  over  a  Hereditary  Officialdom  (a  Bureau- 
cratic Nobility)  346 

b.  Autocratic  Means  of  Weakening  or  Destroying  the  Self-perpetuat- 
ing Quality  of  the  Ranking  Officials  346 

i.  Priests  346 

ii.  Commoners    (General  Observations)  347 

iii.  Commoners:    Social   Effects  and   Limitations  of  the  Chinese 

Examination  System  347 

iv.  Eunuchs:  the  Principle  354 

v.  Eunuchs:  a  Few  Historical  Facts  356 

vi.  The  Despot's  Personal  Agency  No  Incipient  Party  358 

vii.  The  Tribal  Nobles  of  Conquest  Dynasties  359 

viii.  Slaves  360 

7.  "Regular"  Officials,  Control  Groups,  and  the  People  362 
J.  Social  Promotion  363 

1.  Reservoirs  and  Mainsprings  of  Social  Promotion  363 

2.  Criteria  for  Social  Promotion   (Aptitudes  "plus"  .  .  .  )  364 


3.  Social  Promotion  on  a  Slave  Plantation  364 

K.  The  Total  Ruling  Class — a  Monopoly  Bureaucracy  365 

1.  The  Ruling  Class  of  Hydraulic  Society  and  the  Upper  Classes  in 

Other  Stratified  Societies  365 

a.  Authoritarian  Bodies  Do  Not  Necessarily  Exert  Total  Power  366 

3.  Monopoly  versus  Competition  in  Societal  Leadership  366 

4.  Monopoly  of  Societal  Leadership  Appears  in  Oriental  Despotism  as 
Monopoly  of  Bureaucratic  Organization    ("Monopoly  Bureaucracy")  367 

Chapter  9:  The  Rise  and  Fall  of  the  Theory  of  the  Asiatic  Mode  of  Pro- 
duction 369 

A.  Old  and  New  Constructs  of  a  Unilinear  Development  Disregard  Hy- 
draulic Society  370 

1.  19th-century  Unilinealists  370 

2.  Negative  Criticisms  370 

3.  A  Theoretical  Vacuum  371 

4.  The  Spread  of  a  "Marxist-Leninist"  Neo-unilinealism  371 

5.  The  Need  for  a  Reexamination  of  Marx',  Engels',  and  Lenin's  Views 

on  the  "Asiatic  System"  and  Oriental  Despotism  372 

B.  Marx,  Engels,  and  Lenin  Accept  the  Asiatic  Concept  372 

1.  Marx  Follows  His  Classical  Predecessors  with  Regard  to  the  Institu- 
tional Structure  and  the  Developmental  Position  of  the  Orient  372 

2.  Marx'  Asiatic  Interpretation  of  India,  China,  and  Post-Mongol  Rus- 
sia 374 

a.  India  ("Asiatic  Society"  .  .  .  )  374 

b.  China  (".  .  .  Asiatic  Production"  and  Private  Peasant  Landhold- 

ing)  374 

c.  Russia   ("Oriental  despotism"  .  .  .  Perpetuated)  375 

3.  Marx  Warns  against  Confusing  the  State-controlled  Agrarian  Order 

of  Asia  with  Slavery  or  Serfdom  376 

4.  "General  Slavery"  377 

5.  For  Many  Years  Lenin  Also  Upheld  the  Asiatic  Concept  377 

a.  "Asiatic  Despotism,"  a  Totality  of  Traits  "with  Special  Economic, 
Political,  and  Sociological  Characteristics"  378 

b.  Lenin   Elaborates  Marx'   Semi-Asiatic  Interpretation   of  Tsarist 
Russia  379 

c.  Lenin  Holds  the  Term  "Feudal"  Unsuited  to  Traditional  Russia    379 

C.  Retreat  from  Truth  380 

1.  Marx  380 

a.  Marx  "Mystifies"  the  Character  of  the  Ruling  Class  380 

b.  Further  Retrogressions  381 

2.  Engels  382 

a.  Asiatic  Society — Yes!   (Engels'  Basic  Attitude)  382 

b.  Asiatic  Society — Yes  and  Nol    (The  Anti-Duhring)  383 

c.  Asiatic  Society — Nol   (The  Origin  of  the  Family,  Private  Property, 
and  the  State)  384 


d.  Retrogressive  Trends  in  a  Supposedly  Progressive  Position  386 
i.  Marx   Defends  Scientific   Objectivity  against  All   Extraneous 

Considerations  386 

ii.  Marx'  and  Engels'  "Sin  against  Science"  387 

iii.  From  Progressive  to  Reactionary  Utopianism  388 

3.  Lenin  389 

a.  Lenin  Further  Cripples  Marx'   Crippled  Version  of  the  Asiatic 
Concept  389 

i.  Consistent  Disregard  of   the   Managerial  Aspect  of  Oriental 

Despotism  389 

ii.  A  Confused  Presentation  of  Russia's  Ruling  Class  390 

b.  A  Power-Strategist's  Treatment  of  Truth  391 

c.  The  Threat  of  the  Asiatic  Restoration    (1906-07)  391 

d.  Further  Oscillations    (1907-14)  394 

e.  Full  Retreat   (1916-19)  395 

i.  Lenin's  Imperialism  (1916)  395 

ii.  State  and  Revolution   (1917)  396 

iii.  Lenin's  Lecture  on  the  State  (1919)  397 

f.  Lenin's  Last  Period:  the  Specter  of  the  Aziatchina  Reemerges      398 

4.  Stalin  401 

a.  The  Old  Guard  Objects  401 

b.  A  Half-hearted  Criticism  of  the  Theory  of  Oriental  Society  402 

i.  The  Leningrad  Discussion   (1931)  402 

ii.  The  Significance  of  the  1931  Discussion  404 

c.  Ideological  Twilight  405 

d.  Stalin  "Edits"  Marx  407 

e.  Delayed  Reaction  in  the  Anglo-Saxon  World  408 

f.  The  Rout  of  the  Notorious  Theory  of  the  Asiatic  Mode  of  Pro- 
duction 409 

D.  Three  Forms  of  the  Blackout  of  the  Theory  of  the  Asiatic  Mode  of 

Production  411 

Chapter  10:  Oriental  Society  in  Transition  413 

A.  Basic  Concepts  of  Societal  Type  and  Development  414 

1.  Societal  Types  414 

a.  Essential,  Specific,  and  Nonspecific  Elements  of  Society  414 

b.  Pre-industrial  Stratified  Societies  416 

i.  Pastoral  Society  416 

ii.  Several  Types  of  Ancient  Societies  416 

iii.  Feudal  Society  417 

iv.  Unwieldy  Hydraulic  Society  418 

v.  Residual  Stratified  Pre-industrial  Societies  418 

2.  Societal  Changes  419 

a.  Forms  419 

b.  Values  420 

B.  Hydraulic  Society  in  Transition  421 
1.  Four  Aspects  of  the  Self-perpetuation  of  Hydraulic  Society  421 

a.  The  Potential  for  Institutional  and  Cultural  Growth  421 



b.  Stagnation,  Epigonism,  and  Retrogression  422 

c.  The  Staying-Power  of  Hydraulic  Society  422 

d.  Societal  Change  Dependent  on  External  Influence  429 

2.  Recent  Patterns  of  External  Influence  422 

a.  Patterns  of  Interrelation  424 

b.  The  Influencing  Side  42 ^ 

c.  Institutional  Differences  in  the  Target  Societies  427 

3.  Societal  Results  42- 

a.  Russia  427 

b.  Colonized  Hydraulic  Countries  400 

c.  Semidependent   ("Semicolonial")  Countries  499 

d.  A  New  Developmental  Force  Arises:  Soviet  Communism  43G 

4.  Hydraulic  Society  at  the  Crossroads  436 

a.  The  Developmental  Issue  Underlying  the  Bolshevik  Revolution  436 

b.  The  USSR — Russia's  Asiatic  Restoration?  408 

c.  Communist  China — the  Product  of  a  Genuine  "Asiatic  Restora- 

C.  Whither  Asia? 

D.  Whither  Western  Society — Whither  Mankind?  447 
Notes  451 


General  Index 

Index  of  Authors  and  Works 




When  in  the  16th  and  17th  centuries,  in  consequence  of  the  com- 
mercial and  industrial  revolution,  Europe's  trade  and  power  spread 
to  the  far  corners  of  the  earth,  a  number  of  keen-minded  Western 
travelers  and  scholars  made  an  intellectual  discovery  comparable  to 
the  great  geographical  exploits  of  the  period.  Contemplating  the 
civilizations  of  the  Near  East,  India,  and  China,  they  found  signifi- 
cant in  all  of  them  a  combination  of  institutional  features  which 
existed  neither  in  classical  antiquity  nor  in  medieval  and  modern 
Europe.  The  classical  economists  eventually  conceptualized  this  dis- 
covery by  speaking  of  a  specific  "Oriental"  or  "Asiatic"  society. 

The  common  substance  in  the  various  Oriental  societies  appeared 
most  conspicuously  in  the  despotic  strength  of  their  political  au- 
thority. Of  course,  tyrannical  governments  were  not  unknown  in 
Europe:  the  rise  of  the  capitalist  order  coincided  with  the  rise  of 
absolutist  states.  But  critical  observers  saw  that  Eastern  absolutism 
was  definitely  more  comprehensive  and  more  oppressive  than  its 
Western  counterpart.  To  them  "Oriental"  despotism  presented  the 
harshest  form  of  total  power. 

Students  of  government,  such  as  Montesquieu,  were  primarily 
concerned  with  the  distressing  personal  effects  of  Oriental  despotism, 
students  of  economy  with  its  managerial  and  proprietary  range.  The 
classical  economists  particularly  were  impressed  by  the  large  water 
works  maintained  for  purposes  of  irrigation  and  communication. 
And  they  noted  that  virtually  everywhere  in  the  Orient  the  gov- 
ernment was  the  biggest  landowner.1 

These  were  extraordinary  insights.  They  were,  in  fact,  the  starting 
point  for  a  systematic  and  comparative  study  of  total  power.  But 
no  such  study  was  undertaken.  Why?  Viewed  alone,  the  social  scien- 
tists' withdrawal  from  the  problem  of  Oriental  despotism  is  puzzling. 
But  it  is  readily  understandable  when  we  consider  the  changes  that 
occurred  in  the  1 9th  century  in  the  general  circumstances  of  Western 
life.  Absolutism  prevailed  in  Europe  when  Bernier  described  his 
experiences  in  the  Near  East  and  Mogul  India  and  when  Mon- 
tesquieu wrote  The  Spirit  of  the  Laxvs.  But  by  the  middle  of  the  1 9th 
century  representative  governments  were  established  in  almost  all 
industrially  advanced  countries.  It  was  then  that  social  science  turned 
to  what  seemed  to  be  more  pressing  problems. 



Fortunate  age.  Fortunate,  despite  the  sufferings  that  an  expand- 
ing industrial  order  imposed  on  masses  of  underprivileged  men  and 
women.  Appalled  by  their  lot,  John  Stuart  Mill  claimed  in  1852 
that  "the  restraints  of  Communism  would  be  freedom  in  comparison 
with  the  present  situation  of  the  majority  of  the  human  race."  2 
But  he  also  declared  that  the  modern  property-based  system  of 
industry,  outgrowing  its  dismal  childhood,  might  well  satisfy  man's 
needs  without  grinding  him  down  into  "a  tame  uniformity  of 
thoughts,  feelings,  and  actions."  3 

Fortunate  age.  Its  ever-critical  children  could  combat  the  frag- 
mented despotism  of  privilege  and  power,  because  they  did  not  live 
under  a  system  of  "general  slavery."*  Indeed  they  were  so  far  re- 
moved from  the  image  of  absolutist  power  that  they  felt  no  urge  to 
study  its  substance.  Some,  such  as  Max  Weber,  did  examine  illumi- 
natingly,  if  not  too  systematically,  certain  aspects  of  Oriental  state- 
craft and  bureaucracy.  But  by  and  large,  what  Bury  said  at  the  close 
of  the  period  of  liberalism  was  true:  little  effort  was  made  to  de- 
termine the  peculiarities  of  absolutism  through  detailed  comparative 

Fortunate  age.  Optimistic  age.  It  confidently  expected  the  rising 
sun  of  civilization  to  dispel  the  last  vestiges  of  despotism  that  be- 
clouded the  path  of  progress. 


But  the  high  noon  has  failed  to  fulfill  the  promises  of  the  dawn. 
Political  and  social  earthquakes  more  terrifying  than  any  that 
previously  shook  the  homelands  of  modern  science  make  it  painfully 
clear  that  what  has  been  won  so  far  is  neither  safe  nor  certain.  Total 
power,  far  from  meekly  withering  away,  is  spreading  like  a  virulent 
and  aggressive  disease.  It  is  this  condition  that  recalls  man's  previous 
experience  with  extreme  forms  of  despotic  rule.  It  is  this  condition 
that  suggests  a  new  and  deepened  analysis  of  Oriental — or  as  I  now 
prefer  to  call  it,  hydraulic — society. 


For  three  decades  I  studied  the  institutional  settings  of  Oriental 
despotism;  and  for  a  considerable  part  of  this  time  I  was  content 
to  designate  it  "Oriental  society."  But  the  more  my  research  ad- 

a.  Marx  (1939:  395)  applied  this  term  to  Oriental  despotism  without  realizing  that 
more  comprehensive  forms  of  state  slavery  might  emerge  under  conditions  of  industry. 


vanced,  the  more  I  felt  the  need  for  a  new  nomenclature.  Distinguish- 
ing as  I  do  between  a  farming  economy  that  involves  small-scale 
irrigation  (hydroagriculture)  and  one  that  involves  large-scale  and 
government-managed  works  of  irrigation  and  flood  control  (hydrau- 
lic agriculture),  I  came  to  believe  that  the  designations  "hydraulic 
society"  and  "hydraulic  civilization"  express  more  appropriately 
than  the  traditional  terms  the  peculiarities  of  the  order  under  dis- 
cussion. The  new  nomenclature,  which  stresses  human  action  rather 
than  geography,  facilitates  comparison  with  "industrial  society"  and 
"feudal  society."  And  it  permits  us,  without  circumstantial  reasoning, 
to  include  in  our  investigation  the  higher  agrarian  civilizations  of 
pre-Spanish  America  as  well  as  certain  hydraulic  parallels  in  East 
Africa  and  the  Pacific  areas,  especially  in  Hawaii.  By  underlining 
the  prominent  role  of  the  government,  the  term  "hydraulic,"  as  I  de- 
fine it,  draws  attention  to  the  agromanagerial  and  agrobureaucratic 
character  of  these  civilizations. 

The  present  inquiry  goes  considerably  beyond  the  findings  of  the 
early  students  of  Oriental  society.  In  the  following  pages  I  endeavor 
to  describe  systematically  man's  hydraulic  response  to  arid,  semi- 
arid,  and  particular  humid  environments.  I  also  indicate  how  the 
major  aspects  of  hydraulic  society  interlock  in  a  vigorously  function- 
ing institutional  going  concern. 

This  going  concern  constitutes  a  geo-institutional  nexus  which 
resembles  industrial  society  in  that  a  limited  core  area  decisively 
affects  conditions  in  large  interstitial  and  peripheral  areas.  In  many 
cases  these  marginal  areas  are  politically  connected  with  hydraulic 
core  areas;  but  they  also  exist  independently.  Manifestly,  the 
organizational  and  acquisitive  institutions  of  the  agrodespotic  state 
can  spread  without  the  hydraulic  institutions  which,  to  judge  from 
the  available  data,  account  for  the  genesis  of  all  historically  significant 
zones  of  agrarian  despotism.  An  understanding  of  the  relations 
between  the  core  and  the  margin  of  hydraulic  society — a  phe- 
nomenon barely  noted  by  the  pioneer  analysts — is  crucially  im- 
portant for  an  understanding  of  Western  Rome,  later  Byzantium, 
Maya  civilization,  and  post-Mongol  (Tsarist)  Russia. 

In  the  matter  of  private  property  the  early  institutionalists  were 
satisfied  to  indicate  that  the  Oriental  state  controlled  the  strategic 
means  of  production,  and  most  importantly  the  cultivable  land.  The 
real  situation  is  much  more  complicated  and,  from  the  standpoint 
of  societal  leadership,  much  more  disturbing.  History  shows  that  in 


many  hydraulic  societies  there  existed  very  considerable  active 
(productive)  private  property;  but  it  also  shows  that  this  development 
did  not  threaten  the  despotic  regimes,  since  the  property  holders, 
as  property  holders,  were  kept  disorganized  and  politically  impotent. 

Obviously,  too  much  has  been  said  about  private  property  gen- 
erally and  too  little  about  strong  and  weak  property  and  about  the 
conditions  which  promote  these  forms.  The  analysis  of  the  varieties 
of  private  property  in  hydraulic  society  determines  the  limitations 
of  nonbureaucratic  (and  of  bureaucratic)  private  property  under 
Oriental  despotism.  Its  results  contradict  the  belief  that  practically 
any  form  of  avowedly  benevolent  state  planning  is  preferable  to  the 
predominance  of  private  property,  a  condition  which  modern  socio- 
logical folklore  deems  most  abhorrent. 

And  then  there  is  the  problem  of  class.  Richard  Jones  and  John 
Stuart  Mill  indicated  that  in  Oriental  society  the  officials  enjoyed 
advantages  of  income  which  in  the  West  accrued  to  the  private 
owners  of  land  and  capital.  Jones  and  Mill  expressed  a  significant 
truth.  But  they  did  so  only  in  passing  and  without  stating  clearly 
that  under  agrodespotic  conditions  the  managerial  bureaucracy  was 
the  ruling  class.  They  therefore  did  not  challenge  the  widely  accepted 
concept  of  class  which  takes  as  its  main  criterion  diversities  in  (active) 
private  property. 

The  present  inquiry  analyzes  the  patterns  of  class  in  a  society  whose 
leaders  are  the  holders  of  despotic  state  power  and  not  private  owners 
and  entrepreneurs.  This  procedure,  in  addition  to  modifying  the 
notion  of  what  constitutes  a  ruling  class,  leads  to  a  new  evaluation  of 
such  phenomena  as  landlordism,  capitalism,  gentry,  and  guild.  It 
explains  why,  in  hydraulic  society,  there  exists  a  bureaucratic  land- 
lordism, a  bureaucratic  capitalism,  and  a  bureaucratic  gentry.  It 
explains  why  in  such  a  society  the  professional  organizations,  al- 
though sharing  certain  features  with  the  guilds  of  Medieval  Europe, 
were  societally  quite  unlike  them.  It  also  explains  why  in  such  a 
society  supreme  autocratic  leadership  is  the  rule.6  While  the  law  of 
diminishing  administrative  returns  determines  the  lower  limit  of  the 
bureaucratic  pyramid,  the  cumulative  tendency  of  unchecked  power  • 
determines  the  character  of  its  top. 


The  proponent  of  new  scientific  ideas  unavoidably  discards  old 
ideas.  Almost  as  unavoidably  he  will  be  criticized  by  those  who  de- 
fend the  old  position.  Not  infrequently  such  a  controversy  throws 
new  light  on  the  entire  issue.  This  has  certainly  been  the  case  with 
the  theory  of  Oriental  (or  hydraulic)  society. 


The  reader  will  not  be  surprised  to  learn  that  this  theory  has 
aroused  the  passionate  hostility  of  the  new  total  managerial  bureauc- 
racy that,  in  the  name  of  Communism,  today  controls  a  large  part 
of  the  world's  population.  The  Soviet  ideologists,  who  in  1931  de- 
clared the  concept  of  Oriental  society  and  a  "functional"  ruling 
bureaucracy  politically  impermissible,  no  matter  what  the  "pure 
truth"  might  be,7  cynically  admitted  that  their  objections  were  in- 
spired by  political  interests  and  not  by  scientific  considerations.  In 
1950  the  leaders  of  Soviet  Oriental  studies  designated  as  their  most 
important  accomplishment  "the  rout  of  the  notorious  theory  of  the 
'Asiatic  mode  of  production.'  "  8 

The  reference  to  the  "Asiatic  mode  of  production"  is  indicative  of 
the  kinds  of  difficulties  that  confront  the  Communist  attack  on  the 
theory  of  Oriental  society.  To  understand  them,  it  must  be  re- 
membered that  Marx  accepted  many  values  of  the  Western  world, 
whose  modern  private-property-based  institutions  he  wished  to  see 
destroyed.  In  contrast  to  the  Soviet  conception  of  partisanship  in  art 
and  science,  Marx  rejected  as  "shabby"  and  "a  sin  against  science" 
any  method  that  subordinated  scientific  objectivity  to  an  outside 
interest,  that  of  the  workers  included.9  And  following  Richard  Jones 
and  John  Stuart  Mill,  he  began,  in  the  early  1850's,  to  use  the 
concept  of  a  specific  Asiatic  or  Oriental  society.  Stressing  particularly 
the  Asiatic  system  of  economy,  which  he  designated  as  the  "Asiatic 
mode  of  production,"  Marx  upheld  the  "Asiatic"  concept  until  his 
death,  that  is,  for  the  greater  part  of  his  adult  life.  Engels,  despite 
some  temporary  inconsistencies,  also  upheld  to  the  end  Marx'  version 
of  the  Asiatic  concept.  Neither  Marx  nor  Engels  clearly  defined  the 
phenomenon  of  a  marginal  Oriental  society;  but  from  1853  on,  they 
both  emphasized  the  "semi-Asiatic"  quality  of  Tsarist  society  and  the 
Orientally  despotic  character  of  its  government. 

Lenin  spoke  approvingly  of  Marx'  concept  of  a  specific  Asiatic 
mode  of  production,  first  in  1894  and  last  in  1914.  Following  Marx 
and  Engels,  he  recognized  the  significance  of  "Asiatic"  institutions  for 
Tsarist  Russia,  whose  society  he  viewed  as  "semi-Asiatic"  and  whose 
government  he  considered  to  be  despotic.10 


I  was  unaware  of  the  political  implications  of  a  comparative  study 
of  total  power  when  in  the  winter  of  1922-23  and  under  the  in- 
fluence of  Max  Weber  I  began  to  investigate  the  peculiarities  of 
hydraulic  society  and  statecraft.  I  was  unaware  of  it  when,  in  1924 
and  now  with  reference  to  Marx  as  well  as  Weber,  I  pointed  to 
"Asiatic"   society "■  as   dominated   by  a   bureaucratically   despotic 


state.12  I  was  unaware  of  having  drawn  conclusions  from  Marx'  ver- 
sion of  the  Asiatic  concept,  which  Marx  himself  had  avoided,  when  in 
1926  and  employing  Marx'  own  socio-economic  criteria,  I  wrote  that 
Chinese  developments  in  the  second  half  of  the  first  millennium  b.c. 
made  "the  administrative  officialdom — headed  by  the  absolutist  em- 
peror— the  ruling  class"  13  and  that  this  ruling  class,  in  China  as  in 
Egypt  and  India,  was  a  "mighty  hydraulic  [Wasserbau]  bureauc- 
racy." 14  I  elaborated  this  thesis  in  1926,15  1927,18  1929,"  and  1931,18 
impressed  by  Marx'  insistence  on  an  unbiased  pursuit  of  truth.6  In 
1932,  a  Soviet  critic  of  my  Wirtschaft  und  Gesellschaft  Chinas  de- 
nounced my  belief  in  the  objectivity  of  science.19  It  was  at  this  time 
that  the  Soviet  publishers  ceased  to  print  my  analyses  of  Asiatic 
society  in  general  and  of  Chinese  society  in  particular.0 

In  the  1930's  I  gradually  abandoned  the  hope  that  in  the  USSR 
the  nationalization  of  all  major  means  of  production  might  initiate 
popular  control  over  the  government  and  the  rise  of  a  classless 
society.  Deepened  understanding  of  the  character  of  Soviet  society 
paved  the  way  to  further  insights  into  the  structure  and  ideology  of 
bureaucratic  despotism.  Re-examination  of  the  Marxist-Leninist 
view  of  Oriental  society  made  it  clear  that  Marx,  far  from  originating 
the  "Asiatic"  concept,  had  found  it  ready-made  in  the  writings  of  the 
classical  economists.  I  further  realized  that  although  Marx  accepted 
the  classical  view  in  many  important  essentials,  he  failed  to  draw  a 
conclusion,  which  from  the  standpoint  of  his  own  theory  seemed 
inescapable — namely,  that  under  the  conditions  of  the  Asiatic  mode 
of  production  the  agromanagerial  bureaucracy  constituted  the  ruling 

Lenin's  ambivalence  toward  the  "Asiatic  system"  is  perhaps  even 
more  revealing.  In  1906-07  Lenin  admitted  that  the  next  Russian 
revolution,  instead  of  initiating  a  socialist  society,  might  lead  to  an 

b.  I  cited  Marx'  statements  on  this  point  in  1927  (Wittfogel,  1927:  296)  and  again  in 
1929  (ibid.,  1929a:  581  and  n.  60;  see  also  585). 

c.  My  article,  "Geopolitik,  geographischer  Materialismus  und  Marxismus,"  which 
argued  the  importance  of  the  natural  factor  for  societal  growth  in  general  and  for 
Asiatic  society  in  particular  (see  Wittfogel,  1929:  725-8)  was  published  in  Unter  dem 
Banner  des  Marxismus  without  editorial  comment,  whereas  in  the  Russian  version  of 
the  same  journal  (Pod  znamenem  marxizma,  1929,  Nos.  2/3,  6,  7/8)  the  editor  indicated 
his  disagreement  with  some  of  the  author's  views.  In  1930,  the  journal  refused  to 
publish  the  continuation  of  my  article,  which  carried  farther  the  analysis  of  the  natural 
foundations  of  Asiatic  society  (see  Wittfogel,  1932:  593  ff.,  597-608).  For  corrections  of 
certain  of  my  early  views  on  the  man-nature  relationship  see  below,  Chap.  1;  cf.  Chap. 
9).  My  book  Wirtschaft  und  Gesellschaft  Chinas  was  translated  into  Russian,  and  the 
typewritten  translation  was  circulated  among  a  number  of  Soviet  experts,  who  were 
asked  to  write  a  critical  introduction.  To  my  knowledge,  such  an  introduction  was 
never  written.  The  translation  was  never  published. 


"Asiatic  restoration."  But  when  World  War  I  opened  up  new  pos- 
sibilities for  a  revolutionary  seizure  of  power,  he  completely  dropped 
the  Asiatic  concept,  which,  with  oscillations,  he  had  upheld  for 
twenty  years.  By  discussing  Marx'  views  of  the  state  without  re- 
producing Marx'  ideas  of  the  Asiatic  state  and  the  Oriental  despotism 
of  Tsarist  Russia,  Lenin  wrote  what  probably  is  the  most  dishonest 
book  of  his  political  career:  State  and  Revolution.  The  gradual 
rejection  of  the  Asiatic  concept  in  the  USSR,  which  in  1938  was 
climaxed  by  Stalin's  re-editing  of  Marx'  outstanding  reference  to  the 
Asiatic  mode  of  production,  logically  followed  Lenin's  abandonment 
of  the  Asiatic  concept  on  the  eve  of  the  Bolshevik  revolution. 


The  campaign  against  the  Asiatic  concept  shows  the  master  minds 
of  the  Communist  camp  unable  to  bolster  their  rejection  with  ra- 
tional arguments.  This  in  turn  explains  the  oblique  and  primarily 
negative  methods  with  which  the  friends  of  Communist  totalitarian- 
ism in  the  non-Communist  world  oppose  the  outlawed  concept.  To 
the  uninitiated  these  methods,  which  use  distortion  and  de-emphasis 
rather  than  open  discussion,  are  confusing.  To  the  initiated  they 
disclose  once  more  the  scientific  weakness  of  the  most  powerful  attack 
against  the  theory  of  Oriental  (hydraulic)  society. 

The  picture  of  hydraulic  society  given  in  this  inquiry  implies 
definite  concepts  of  societal  type  and  development.  No  doubt  there 
is  structure  and  cohesion  in  man's  personal  history.  All  individuals 
base  their  behavior  on  the  conviction  that  the  regularities  of  yester- 
day are  necessarily  linked  to  the  regularities  of  today  and  tomorrow. 
And  there  is  structure  and  cohesion  in  the  history  of  mankind.  In- 
dividuals and  groups  of  individuals  like  to  speak  of  institutional 
units  which  they  see  operating  in  the  present  and  which  they  expect 
to  operate,  or  to  change  recognizably,  in  the  future.  Agnostic  with- 
drawal from  the  problem  of  development  therefore  ceases  to  be 
plausible  as  soon  as  it  is  clearly  defined. 

However,  the  absurdity  of  developmental  agnosticism  provides  no 
excuse  for  a  scheme  of  historical  change  that  insists  on  a  unilinear, 
irresistible,  and  necessarily  progressive  development  of  society.  Marx' 
and  Engels'  acceptance  of  Asiatic  society  as  a  separate  and  stationary 
conformation  shows  the  doctrinal  insincerity  of  those  who,  in  the 
name  of  Marx,  peddle  the  unilinear  construct.  And  the  comparative 
study  of  societal   conformations   demonstrates   the   empirical   un- 


tenability  of  their  position.  Such  a  study  brings  to  light  a  complex 
sociohistorical  pattern,  which  includes  stagnation  as  well  as  develop- 
ment and  diversive  change  and  regression  as  well  as  progress.  By 
revealing  the  opportunities,  and  the  pitfalls,  of  open  historical  situa- 
tions, this  concept  assigns  to  man  a  profound  moral  responsibility, 
for  which  the  unilinear  scheme,  with  its  ultimate  fatalism,  has  no 


Congruent  with  the  arguments  given  above,  I  have  started  my 
inquiry  with  the  societal  order  of  which  agromanagerial  despotism  is 
a  part;  and  I  have  stressed  the  peculiarity  of  this  order  by  calling  it 
"hydraulic  society."  But  I  have  no  hesitancy  in  employing  the  tradi- 
tional designations  "Oriental  society"  and  "Asiatic  society"  as  syno- 
nyms for  "hydraulic  society"  and  "agromanagerial  society";  and 
while  using  the  terms  "hydraulic,"  "agrobureaucratic,"  and  "Oriental 
despotism"  interchangeably,  I  have  given  preference  to  the  older 
formulation,  "Oriental  despotism"  in  my  title,  partly  to  emphasize 
the  historical  depth  of  my  central  concept  and  partly  because  the 
majority  of  all  great  hydraulic  civilizations  existed  in  what  is  cus- 
tomarily called  the  Orient.  Originally  I  had  planned  to  publish 
this  study  under  the  title  Oriental  Society. 

The  preservation  of  the  old  nomenclature  stands  us  in  good  stead 
when  we  examine  recent  developments.  For  while  there  are  some 
traces  of  hydraulic  society  left  in  certain  regions  of  Latin  America, 
the  heritage  of  the  old  order  is  still  very  conspicuous  in  many  coun- 
tries of  the  Orient  proper.  The  problem  of  hydraulic  society  in 
transition  is  therefore  primarily  the  problem  of  this  area. 

Under  what  influences  and  in  what  ways  are  the  people  of  the  East 
throwing  off  the  conditions  of  hydraulic  society  which  they  main- 
tained for  millennia?  The  significance  of  this  question  becomes 
fully  apparent  only  when  we  understand  that  Oriental  despotism 
atomized  those  nonbureaucratic  groups  and  strata  which,  in  feudal 
Europe  and  Japan,  spearheaded  the  rise  of  a  commercial  and  in- 
dustrial society.  Nowhere,  it  seems,  did  hydraulic  society,  without 
outside  aid,  make  a  similar  advance.  It  was  for  this  reason  that  Marx 
called  Asiatic  society  stationary  and  expected  British  rule  in  India 
to  accomplish  "the  only  social  revolution  ever  heard  of  in  Asia"  by 
establishing  there  a  property-based  non-Asiatic  society.20 

Subsequent  events  indicate  that  Marx  seriously  overrated  the 
transformative  strength  of  capitalist  economy.  To  be  sure,  Western 
rule  in  India  and  other  Oriental  countries  provided  new  possibilities 


for  a  nontotalitarian  development;  but  at  the  end  of  the  era  of 
Western  colonialism  and  despite  the  introduction  of  parliamentary 
governments  of  various  kinds,  the  political  leaders  of  the  Orient  are 
still  greatly  attracted  by  a  bureaucratic-managerial  policy  which 
keeps  the  state  supremely  strong  and  the  nonbureaucratic  and  private 
sector  of  society  supremely  weak. 


In  this  context,  certain  aspects  of  Russia's  recent  development 
deserve  the  most  careful  scrutiny.  The  marginally  Oriental  civiliza- 
tion of  Tsarist  Russia  was  greatly  influenced  by  the  West,  though 
Russia  did  not  become  a  Western  colony  or  semi-colony.  Russia's 
Westernization  radically  changed  the  country's  political  and  eco- 
nomic climate,  and  in  the  spring  of  1917  its  antitotalitarian  forces 
had  a  genuine  opportunity  to  accomplish  the  anti-Asiatic  social  revo- 
lution which  Marx,  in  1853,  had  envisaged  for  India.  But  in  the  fall 
of  1917  these  antitotalitarian  forces  were  defeated  by  the  Bolshevik 
champions  of  a  new  totalitarian  order.  They  were  defeated  because 
they  failed  to  utilize  the  democratic  potential  in  a  historical  situation 
that  was  temporarily  open.  From  the  standpoint  of  individual  free- 
dom and  social  justice,  1917  is  probably  the  most  fateful  year  in 
modern  history. 

The  intellectual  and  political  leaders  of  non-Communist  Asia,  who 
profess  to  believe  in  democracy  and  who  in  their  majority  speak 
deferentially  of  Marx,  will  fulfill  their  historical  responsibility  only 
if  they  face  the  despotic  heritage  of  the  Oriental  world  not  less  but 
more  clearly  than  did  Marx.  In  the  light  of  the  Russian  experience 
of  1917  they  should  be  willing  to  consider  the  issue  of  an  "Asiatic 
restoration"  not  only  in  relation  to  Russia  but  also  to  present-day 


The  masters  of  the  modern  totalitarian  superstate  build  big  and 
integrated  institutions,  which,  they  say,  we  cannot  emulate.  And  they 
display  big  and  integrated  ideas,  which,  they  say,  we  cannot  match. 
They  are  right  in  one  respect.  We  do  not  maintain  totalitarian  sys- 
tems of  integrated  power  and  ideology.  Favorable  constellations  of 
historical  events  have  permitted  us  to  avoid  these  monstrous  de- 
velopments that  paralyze  the  search  for  scientific  truth  and  social 
improvement.  But  our  opponents  are  wrong  when  they  hold  us  in- 
capable of  voluntary  association  because  we  reject  the  disciplines  of 
general  (state)  slavery.  They  are  wrong  when  they  hold  us  incapable 


of  producing  big  and  structured  ideas  because  we  reject  state-imposed 

Political  freedom  is  not  identical  with  the  absence  of  organized 
action,  though  our  enemies  would  be  happy  if  this  were  so.  And 
intellectual  freedom  is  not  identical  with  the  absence  of  integrated 
thought.  It  is  only  under  the  conditions  of  free  discussion  that 
comprehensive  sets  of  ideas  can  be  genuinely  tested. 

In  the  recent  past,  scholars  often  gave  themselves  to  the  study  of 
details  because  they  took  the  broad  principles  of  life  and  thought 
for  granted.  Seeing  these  principles  threatened,  they  today  begin  to 
recall  that  the  trail  blazers  of  modern  thought  viewed  nature  and 
society  as  integrated  orders  whose  architecture  they  explored.  The 
Newtons,  Montesquieus,  Adam  Smiths,  and  Darwins  provided  new 
interpretations  of  the  world  that  were  as  spontaneous  as  they  were 
coherent,  and  as  bold  as  they  were  competent. 

You  cannot  fight  something  with  nothing.  In  a  crisis  situation,  any 
theoretical  vacuum,  like  any  power  vacuum,  invites  disaster.  There 
is  no  excuse  for  letting  the  enemy  have  things  his  way  when  our  side 
possesses  infinite  reserves  of  superior  strength.  There  is  no  excuse 
for  letting  the  totalitarian  strategists  parade  their  contrived  doctrines 
on  ground  that  is  legitimately  ours.  There  is  no  excuse  for  letting 
them  win  the  battle  of  ideas  by  default. 

Scientific  inquiry  has  its  inner  laws.  But  it  earns  the  privilege  of 
freedom  only  when,  rooted  in  the  heritage  of  the  past,  it  alertly  faces 
the  threats  of  a  conflict-torn  present  and  boldly  exhausts  the  pos- 
sibilities of  an  open  future. 



he  natural  setting  of  hydraulic  society 


Contrary  to  the  popular  belief  that  nature  always  remains  the 
same — a  belief  that  has  led  to  static  theories  of  environmentalism 
and  to  their  equally  static  rejections — nature  changes  profoundly 
whenever  man,  in  response  to  simple  or  complex  historical  causes, 
profoundly  changes  his  technical  equipment,  his  social  organization, 
and  his  world  outlook.  Man  never  stops  affecting  his  natural  en- 
vironment. He  constantly  transforms  it;  and  he  actualizes a  new 
forces  whenever  his  efforts  carry  him  to  a  new  level  of  operation. 
Whether  a  new  level  can  be  attained  at  all,  or  once  attained,  where 
it  will  lead,  depends  first  on  the  institutional  order  b  and  second 
on  the  ultimate  target  of  man's  activity:  the  physical,  chemical,  and 
biological  world  accessible  to  him.  Institutional  conditions  being 
equal,  it  is  the  difference  in  the  natural  setting  that  suggests  and 
permits — or  precludes — the  development  of  new  forms  of  technology, 
subsistence,  and  social  control. 

A  waterfall  interested  primitive  man  little  except  as  a  landmark  or 
an  object  of  veneration.  When  sedentary  man  developed  industry 
on  a  sophisticated  mechanical  level,  he  actualized  the  motive  energy 
of  water;  and  many  new  enterprises  (mills)  arose  on  the  banks  of 
rushing  streams.  The  discovery  of  the  technical  potential  inherent 
in  coal  made  man  geology  conscious  as  never  before,  and  the  water 
mill  became  a  romantic  survival  in  the  revolutionized  industrial 
landscape  dominated  by  the  steam  engine. 

a.  For  the  terms  "transformation"  and  "actualization,"  as  used  here,  see  Wittfogel, 
1932:  482. 

b.  This  formulation  differs  from  my  earlier  concept  of  the  relation  between  man 
and  nature  (Wittfogel,  1932:  483  ft.,  712  ft.)  in  its  emphasis  on  the  primary  importance 
of  institutional  (and  cultural)  factors.  From  this  premise  follows  the  recognition  of 
man's  freedom  to  make  a  genuine  choice  in  historically  open  situations,  a  point 
developed  in  the  later  part  of  the  present  chapter.  Except  for  these  corrections — which 
are  essential  also  for  my  criticism  of  certain  ideas  of  Marx  that  I  had  previously 
accepted — 1  am  upholding  the  substance  of  my  earlier  views  (see  Wittfogel,  1931:  21  ff.; 
ibid.,  1932:  486  ff.). 


In  recent  years  man  has  uncovered  the  productive  energies  of 
electricity.  Again  he  is  turning  his  attention  to  falling  water.  But 
even  when  the  engineer  of  the  20th  century  erects  his  power  plant 
on  the  very  spot  that  previously  supported  a  textile  mill,  he  actualizes 
new  forces  in  the  old  setting.  Nature  acquires  a  new  function;  and 
gradually  it  also  assumes  a  new  appearance. 


What  is  true  for  the  industrial  scene  is  equally  true  for  the  agri- 
cultural landscape.  The  hydraulic  potential  of  the  earth's  water- 
deficient  regions  is  actualized  only  under  specific  historical  cir- 
cumstances. Primitive  man  has  known  water-deficient  regions  since 
time  immemorial;  but  while  he  depended  on  gathering,  hunting,  and 
fishing,  he  had  little  need  for  planned  water  control.  Only  after  he 
learned  to  utilize  the  reproductive  processes  of  plant  life  did  he  begin 
to  appreciate  the  agricultural  possibilities  of  dry  areas,  which  con- 
tained sources  of  water  supply  other  than  on-the-spot  rainfall.  Only 
then  did  he  begin  to  manipulate  the  newly  discovered  qualities  of  the 
old  setting  through  small-scale  irrigation  farming  (hydroagriculture) 
and/or  large-scale  and  government-directed  farming  (hydraulic  agri- 
culture). Only  then  did  the  opportunity  arise  for  despotic  patterns 
of  government  and  society. 

The  opportunity,  not  the  necessity.  Large  enterprises  of  water 
control  will  create  no  hydraulic  order,  if  they  are  part  of  a  wider 
nonhydraulic  nexus.  The  water  works  of  the  Po  Plain,  of  Venice,  and 
of  the  Netherlands  modified  regional  conditions;  but  neither  North- 
ern Italy  nor  Holland  developed  a  hydraulic  system  of  government 
and  property.  Even  the  Mormons,  who  established  a  flourishing 
hydraulic  agriculture  in  the  heart  of  arid  North  America,  never 
succeeded  in  completely  eliminating  the  political  and  cultural  in- 
fluence of  their  wider  industrial  environment.  The  history  of  the 
Latter-Day  Saints  illustrates  both  the  organizational  potential  of 
large-scale  irrigation  and  the  limitations  imposed  on  the  development 
of  hydraulic  institutions  by  a  dominant  Western  society. 

Thus,  too  little  or  too  much  water  does  not  necessarily  lead  to 
governmental  water  control;  nor  does  governmental  water  control 
necessarily  imply  despotic  methods  of  statecraft.  It  is  only  above  the 
level  of  an  extractive  subsistence  economy,  beyond  the  influence  of 
strong  centers  of  rainfall  agriculture,  and  below  the  level  of  a 
property-based  industrial  civilization  that  man,  reacting  specifically 
to  the  water-deficient  landscape,  moves  toward  a  specific  hydraulic 
order  of  life. 

CHAPTER    1,    C  lg 


1.  Historical  Conditions  Being  Equal,  a  Major 
Natural  Difference  the  Possible  Cause  of 
Decisive  Institutional  Differences 

Many  factors  differentiated  agrarian  life  prior  to  the  industrial  age, 
but  none  equaled  in  institutional  significance  the  stimulating  con- 
tradictions offered  by  arid  areas  possessing  accessible  sources  of 
water  supply  other  than  on-the-spot  rainfall.  Under  the  just-defined 
conditions  of  pre-industriai  agriculture,  this  natural  configuration 
decisively  affected  man's  behavior  as  a  provider  of  food  and  organizer 
of  human  relations.  If  he  wanted  to  cultivate  dry  but  potentially 
fertile  lands  permanently  and  rewardingly,  he  had  to  secure  a  re- 
liable flow  of  moisture.  Of  all  tasks  imposed  by  the  natural  environ- 
ment, it  was  the  task  imposed  by  a  precarious  water  situation  that 
stimulated  man  to  develop  hydraulic  methods  of  social  control. 

2.  Several  Natural  Factors  Essential  to  Farming 

Water  is  not  the  only  natural  factor  essential  for  successful  crop 
raising.  Anyone  wishing  to  farm  must  have  at  his  disposal  useful 
plants,  an  arable  soil,  adequate  humidity,  appropriate  temperature 
(sufficient  sun  and  a  proper  growing  season),  and  a  suitable  lay  of  the 
land  (relief,  surface).0 

All  these  elements  are  equally  essential.  The  lack  of  any  one  of 
them  destroys  the  agronomic  value  of  all  the  others.  Cultivation 
remains  impossible  unless  human  action  can  compensate  for  the 
total  deficiency  of  any  essential  factor. 

3.  Some  Essential  Factors  Defy  Compensating 
Action;   Others  Respond  More  Readily 

The  effectiveness  of  man's  compensating  action  depends  on  the 
ease  with  which  a  lacking  natural  factor  can  be  replaced.  Some  factors 
must  be  considered  constants  because,  under  existing  technological 
conditions,  they  are  for  all  practical  purposes  beyond  man's  control. 
Others  are  more  pliable.  Man  may  manipulate  or,  if  necessary,  change 

Temperature  and  surface  are  the  outstanding  constant  elements 
of  the  agricultural  landscape.  This  was  true  for  the  premachine  age; 
and  it  is  still  essentially  true  today.  Pre-industrial  attempts  to  change 

a.  For  similar  attempts  at  defining  the  natural  factors  basic  to  agriculture  see  CM: 
125;  SM:  753;  Widtsoe,  1928:  19  ff.;  Buck,  1937:  101. 


the  temperature  of  farming  areas  have,  for  obvious  reasons,  met  with 
no  success;  and  even  such  achievements  as  central  heating  and  air 
conditioning  have  wrought  no  major  change.  Still  less  has  man 
succeeded  in  altering  the  cosmic  circumstances  which  ultimately 
determine  the  temperature  of  the  earth. 

The  lay  of  the  land  has  equally  defied  human  effort.  Man  has 
made  many  minor  adjustments  such  as  leveling  or  terracing — most 
frequently,  it  would  seem,  in  connection  with  operations  of  hydro- 
agriculture.  But  before  modern  power  machines  and  high  explosives 
were  invented,  the  globe's  relief  remained  fundamentally  unaltered. 
Even  machine-promoted  agriculture,  like  the  technically  less  ad- 
vanced forms  of  farming,  prospers  on  the  even  surfaces  of  lowlands 
and  high  plateaus  or  on  gently  graded  slopes  and  hills,  and  not  in 
rugged  mountainous  terrain. 

Vegetation  and  soil  do  not  resist  human  action  to  any  comparable 
degree.  The  farmer  professionally  manipulates  plants  and  soils. 
He  may  transfer  useful  plants  to  regions  lacking  them,  and  he 
frequently  does  so.  However,  such  action  is  sporadic  and  temporary; 
it  ceases  when  the  limited  objective  is  achieved.  In  a  given  agri- 
cultural area  the  operations  of  crop  breeding  are  repeated  again  and 
again;  but  the  plants  cover  the  ground  discontinuously,  and  although 
under  certain  circumstances  farm  labor  may  be  coordinated  in  work 
teams,  there  is  nothing  in  the  nature  of  the  individual  plants  or  plant 
aggregates  which  necessitates  large-scale  cooperation  as  a  prerequisite 
for  successful  cultivation.  Before  the  machine  age  the  greater  part  of 
all  agriculture  proceeded  most  effectively  when  individual  husband- 
men or  small  groups  of  husbandmen  attended  to  the  crops. 

The  second  variable  factor,  soil,  follows  a  similar  pattern,  with 
special  limitations  dictated  by  the  relative  heaviness  of  pulverized 
mineral  substance.  While  seeds  or  plants  have  frequently  been  trans- 
ferred to  deficient  areas,  soil  has  rarely  been  moved  to  barren  regions. 
No  doubt,  poor  or  useless  fields  have  been  improved  by  bringing  bet- 
ter soil  from  a  distance.  But  such  action  is  of  little  consequence  for 
the  character  of  any  major  farming  area.1  Man's  efforts  seek  primarily 
to  adjust  the  existing  soil  to  the  needs  of  the  crops  by  hoeing,  digging, 
or  plowing,  and  on  occasion  by  improving  its  chemical  composition 
through  the  application  of  fertilizers. 

Thus  soil  is  susceptible  to  manipulation,  but  to  a  type  of  manipula- 
tion that  requires  work  groups  no  larger  than  are  necessary  for  the 
cultivation  of  the  plants.  Even  when,  under  primitive  conditions, 
the  clearing  of  the  ground  and  the  gathering  of  the  harvest  are  under- 
taken by  large  teams,  the  actual  task  of  tilling  the  fields  is  usually 
left  to  one  or  a  few  individuals. 

CHAPTER     I,    D  Ig 

4.  The  Specific  Qualities  of  Water 

Compared  with  all  other  essential  natural  prerequisites  of  agri- 
culture, water  is  specific.  Temperature  and  surface,  because  of  their 
respective  cosmic  and  geological  dimensions,  have  completely  pre- 
cluded or  strikingly  limited  human  action  throughout  the  pre- 
industrial  era  and  afterward.  In  contrast,  water  is  neither  too  remote 
nor  too  massive  to  permit  manipulation  by  man.  In  this  regard  it 
resembles  two  other  variables,  vegetation  and  soil.  But  it  differs 
greatly  from  both  in  its  susceptibility  to  movement  and  in  the 
techniques  required  to  handle  it. 

Water  is  heavier  than  most  plants.  It  can  nevertheless  be  much 
more  conveniently  managed.  Unhampered  by  the  cohesiveness  of 
solid  matter  and  following  the  law  of  gravity,  water  flows  auto- 
matically to  the  lowest  accessible  point  in  its  environment.  Within 
a  given  agricultural  landscape,  water  is  the  natural  variable  par 

And  this  is  not  all.  Flowing  automatically,  water  appears  unevenly 
in  the  landscape,  gathering  either  below  the  surface  as  ground  water, 
or  above  the  surface  in  separate  cavities  (holes,  ponds,  lakes),  or 
continuous  beds  (streams,  rivers).  Such  formations  are  of  minor 
significance  in  an  agricultural  area  enjoying  ample  precipitation, 
but  they  become  immensely  important  in  the  water-deficient  land- 
scape. The  human  operator  who  has  to  handle  water  deals  with  a 
substance  that  is  not  only  more  mobile  than  other  agronomic  vari- 
ables, but  also  more  bulky. 

This  last  quality  presents  special  difficulties  whenever  man  tries  to 
utilize  large  agglomerations  of  moisture;  and  this  he  is  prone  to  do 
whenever  natural  and  technological  conditions  permit.  No  opera- 
tional necessity  compels  him  to  manipulate  either  soil  or  plants  in 
cooperation  with  many  others.  But  the  bulkiness  of  all  except  the 
smallest  sources  of  water  supply  creates  a  technical  task  which  is 
solved  either  by  mass  labor  or  not  at  all. 


1.  An  Open  Historical  Situation — but 
Recognizable  Patterns  of  Response 

The  stimulating  contradiction  inherent  in  a  potentially  hydraulic 
landscape  is  manifest.  Such  a  landscape  has  an  insufficient  rainfall 
or  none  at  all;  but  it  possesses  other  accessible  sources  of  water 
supply.  If  man  decides  to  utilize  them,  he  may  transform  dry  lands 


into  fertile  fields  and  gardens.  He  may,  but  will  he?  What  makes  him 
engage  in  a  venture  which  involves  great  effort  and  which  is  fraught 
with  highly  problematic  institutional  consequences? 

Historical  evidence  reveals  that  numerous  groups  of  persons  have 
made  this  decision.  Yet  it  also  reveals  that  many  others  have  failed  to 
do  so.  Over  millennia,  tribal  gatherers,  hunters,  fishermen,  and 
pastoralists  inhabited  potentially  hydraulic  regions,  often  in  close 
proximity  to  irrigation  farmers,  but  few  abandoned  their  traditional 
occupations  for  a  hydroagricultural  way  of  life. 

Manifestly,  no  irresistible  necessity  compelled  man  to  utilize  the 
new  natural  opportunities.  The  situation  was  open,  and  the  hydro- 
agricultural  course  was  only  one  of  several  possible  choices.  Never- 
theless, man  took  this  course  so  frequently  and  in  so  many  separate 
areas  that  we  may  assume  regularity  in  evaluation  as  well  as  in 

Man  pursues  recognized  advantage.  Whenever  internal  or  external 
causes  suggest  a  change  in  technology,  material  production,  or  social 
relations,  he  compares  the  merits  of  the  existing  situation  with  the 
advantages — and  disadvantages — that  may  accrue  from  the  con- 
templated change.  Special  effort  is  required  to  attain  the  new  ob- 
jective; and  this  effort  may  involve  not  only  increased  work  and  a 
shift  from  pleasant  to  unpleasant  operations,  but  also  social  and 
cultural  adjustments,  including  a  more  or  less  serious  loss  of  personal 
and  political  independence. 

When  the  sum  total  of  the  accruing  benefits  clearly  and  con- 
vincingly exceeds  the  required  sacrifices,  man  is  willing  to  make  the 
change;  but  problematic  advantage  usually  leaves  him  cool.  Here,  as 
elsewhere,  the  human  budget  is  compounded  of  material  and  non- 
material  items;  any  attempt  to  formulate  it  exclusively  in  terms  of 
smaller  or  larger  quantities  of  things  (goods)  will  prove  unsatis- 
factory. To  be  sure,  the  material  factor  weighs  heavily,  but  its  relative 
importance  can  be  reasonably  defined  only  when  full  recognition  is 
given  to  such  other  values  as  personal  safety,  absence  of  oppression, 
and  time-honored  patterns  of  thought  and  action. 

Culture  historians  have  made  much  of  the  fact  that  during  the 
"recent"  epoch  of  geozoology x  clusters  of  persons  adopted  agricul- 
ture, either  as  a  supplementary  occupation  or,  and  increasingly,  as 
their  main  subsistence  economy.  No  doubt  this  transition  pro- 
foundly affected  the  fate  of  mankind;  but  any  reference  to  the  law 
of  recognized  advantage  must  take  into  account  the  many  primitive 
groups  that  did  not  turn  to  crop-raising  either  during  the  days  of 
incipient  agriculture  or  after  the  rise  of  powerful  and  stratified 
agrarian  civilizations. 

The  agrarian  alternative  had  a  limited — and  very  diverse — appeal 

CHAPTER    1,    D  17 

to  nonfarming  groups  when  cultivation  was  primitive  and  leadership 
not  overly  demanding.  After  the  emergence  of  stratified  agricultural 
societies,  choice  became  even  more  serious.  The  authority  wielded 
by  the  governments  and  wealthy  landowners  of  nearby  agrarian 
states  acted  as  a  deterrent,  for  under  these  conditions  a  shift  might 
involve  submission  to  distasteful  methods  of  political  and  proprietary 
control.  Often  women,  children,  and  war  captives  tilled  some  few 
fields  close  to  a  camp  site;  but  the  dominant  members  of  the  tribe, 
the  adult  males,  stubbornly  refused  to  abandon  their  hunting,  fish- 
ing, or  herding  activities.  The  many  primitive  peoples  who  endured 
lean  years  and  even  long  periods  of  famine  without  making  the 
crucial  changeover  to  agriculture  demonstrate  the  immense  attrac- 
tion of  nonmaterial  values,  when  increased  material  security  can  be 
attained  only  at  the  price  of  political,  economic,  and  cultural  sub- 

2.  The  Recognized  Advantages  of  Irrigation 


The  transition  to  irrigation  farming  poses  the  problem  of  choice  in  a 
still  more  complex  form.  The  primary  choice — whether  or  not  to 
start  hydroagriculture  where  it  had  not  been  known  previously — 
was  generally,  though  perhaps  not  exclusively,  made  by  groups 
familiar  with  the  techniques  of  primitive  rainfall  farming. 

The  secondary  (derivative)  choice — whether  or  not  to  emulate  an 
established  irrigation  economy — confronts  the  traditional  rainfall 
farmer  as  well  as  the  nonagricultural  tribesman.  But  the  nonagricul- 
turist  is  much  less  prepared  technically  and  culturally  to  make  this 
shift;  and  in  both  cases  decision  becomes  more  precarious  when 
acceptance  of  a  materially  attractive  irrigation  economy  involves 
reduction  to  an  abjectly  low  social  and  political  status. 

It  is  obviously  for  this  reason  that  a  number  of  communities 
practicing  rainfall  farming  in  Southwest  China,  India,  and  Meso- 
America  as  well  as  many  tribal  hunters,  fishermen,  and  herders  on  the 
fringe  of  the  hydroagricultural  world  failed  to  make  the  change.  The 
fate  of  those  who  rejected  the  ambivalent  opportunity  varied  greatly; 
but  whatever  their  subsequent  fortunes,  history  offered  most  of  them 
a  genuine  choice,  and  man  proceeded  not  as  the  passive  instrument 
of  an  irresistible  and  unilinear  developmental  force  but  as  a  dis- 
criminating being,  actively  participating  in  shaping  his  future. 

a.  If  ...  ,  then  .  .  . 

Irrigation  farming  always  requires  more  physical  effort  than  rain- 
fall farming  performed  under  comparable  conditions.  But  it  requires 


radical  social  and  political  adjustments  only  in  a  special  geohistorical 
setting.  Strictly  local  tasks  of  digging,  damming,  and  water  distribu- 
tion can  be  performed  by  a  single  husbandman,  a  single  family,  or  a 
small  group  of  neighbors,  and  in  this  case  no  far-reaching  organiza- 
tional steps  are  necessary.  Hydroagriculture,  farming  based  on  small- 
scale  irrigation,  increases  the  food  supply,  but  it  does  not  involve 
the  patterns  of  organization  and  social  control  that  characterize 
hydraulic  agriculture  and  Oriental  despotism. 

These  patterns  come  into  being  when  an  experimenting  com- 
munity of  farmers  or  protofarmers  finds  large  sources  of  moisture  in 
a  dry  but  potentially  fertile  area.  If  irrigation  farming  depends  on 
the  effective  handling  of  a  major  supply  of  water,  the  distinctive 
quality  of  water — its  tendency  to  gather  in  bulk — becomes  in- 
stitutionally decisive.  A  large  quantity  of  water  can  be  channeled 
and  kept  within  bounds  only  by  the  use  of  mass  labor;  and  this  mass 
labor  must  be  coordinated,  disciplined,  and  led.  Thus  a  number  of 
farmers  eager  to  conquer  arid  lowlands  and  plains  are  forced  to 
invoke  the  organizational  devices  which — on  the  basis  of  premachine 
technology — offer  the  one  chance  of  success:  they  must  work  in  co- 
operation with  their  fellows  and  subordinate  themselves  to  a  direct- 
ing authority. 

Again  history  followed  no  unilinear  course  dictated  by  unavoid- 
able necessity.  There  were  recognized  alternatives;  and  those  who 
were  faced  with  them  were  able  to  make  a  genuine  choice.  But  what- 
ever their  decisions,  they  were  made  within  a  framework  that  offered 
only  a  limited  number  of  workable  possibilities. 

Thus  the  changeover  to  hydraulic  agriculture,  or  its  rejection,  was 
not  without  order  or  direction.  The  various  decisions  displayed 
regularities  in  conditioning  and  motivation.  But  the  relative  equality 
of  the  original  choices  did  not  imply  a  relative  equality  in  the  final 
results.  The  majority  of  all  hunters,  fishermen,  and  rainfall  farmers 
who  preserved  their  traditional  way  of  life  were  reduced  to  in- 
significance, if  they  were  not  completely  annihilated.  Some  groups, 
practicing  a  mixed  economy  with  little  or  no  hydroagriculture,  were 
strong  enough  to  impose  their  will  on  adjacent  hydraulic  civilizations. 

The  herders  came  into  their  own  at  a  relatively  late  time  and  in 
a  special  geohistorical  setting.  Often  they  maintained  themselves 
against  all  manner  of  agriculturists,  and  in  a  number  of  instances 
they  engaged  in  sweeping  offensives,  accomplishing  conquests  that 
profoundly  modified  the  political  and  social  structure  of  the  subdued 
agrarian  civilizations. 

The  representatives  of  rainfall  farming  made  history  in  certain 
areas  of  the  West,  which  was  uniquely  suited  to  this  type  of  economy. 

CHAPTER     1,    D  ig 

But  the  hydraulic  agriculturists  outgrew  and  outfought  the  majority 
of  all  neighboring  peoples  wherever  local  conditions  and  interna- 
tional circumstances  one-sidedly  favored  an  agromanagerial  economy 
and  statecraft. 

The  pioneers  of  hydraulic  agriculture,  like  the  pioneers  of  rainfall 
farming,  were  unaware  of  the  ultimate  consequences  of  their  choice. 
Pursuing  recognized  advantage,  they  initiated  an  institutional  de- 
velopment which  led  far  beyond  the  starting  point.  Their  heirs  and 
successors  built  colossal  political  and  social  structures;  but  they  did 
so  at  the  cost  of  many  of  those  freedoms  which  the  conservative 
dissenters  endeavored  and,  in  part,  were  able  to  preserve. 

b.  Arid,  Semi-arid,  and  Humid  Areas:  Hypothetical  Patterns 
of  Interaction  and  Growth 

In  their  pursuit  of  recognized  advantage,  rainfall  farmers  ex- 
perimented with  hydroagriculture  not  only  in  desert-like  areas  of 
full  aridity  and  steppe-like  areas  of  semi-aridity,  but  also  in  humid 
areas  suitable  to  the  cultivation  of  useful  aquatic  plants,  above  all 

The  first  two  types  of  landscapes,  taken  together,  cover  almost 
three-fifths  2 — and  all  three  possibly  something  like  two-thirds — of 
the  globe's  surface.  Within  this  area  each  of  the  three  types  of 
potentially  hydraulic  landscapes  may  have  played  a  specific  role, 
particularly  in  the  formative  period  of  a  hydraulic  economy.  In 
a  major  sector  comprising  all  three  types,  the  semi-arid  regions 
are  highly  suitable  to  small  and  gradually  growing  enterprises  of 
water  control.  The  arid  regions  provide  an  ultimate  testing  ground 
for  the  new  techniques.  And  the  semi-arid  and  humid  regions  profit 
further  from  the  technical  and  organizational  experience  gained  in 
man's  victory  over  the  desert. 

This  may  well  have  been  the  sequence  in  the  spread  of  hydraulic 
agriculture  in  such  widely  separated  areas  as  ancient  Mesopotamia, 
India,  and  the  western  zone  of  South  America.  A  different  order  of 
development  is  probable  for  landscapes  that  are  homogeneously 
arid,  and  still  another  for  those  that  are  predominantly  semi-arid. 

In  each  case,  the  presence  or  absence  of  adjacent  humid  regions 
complicated  the  pattern  of  growth.  In  Egypt,  gatherers,  hunters,  and 
fishermen  seem  to  have  practiced  agriculture  as  a  subsidiary  oc- 
cupation on  the  naturally  flooded  banks  of  the  Nile  long  before 
farming  became   the  primary  pursuit.   In   Meso-America  °  and  in 

a.  Some  twenty  years  ago  I  considered  Aztec  Mexico,  like  pre-Tokugawa  Japan,  a 
feudal  society  with  small-scale  irrigation  (Wittfogel,  1932:  587  ft).  On  the  basis  of  a 


China  diffusion  (from  South  America  and  Inner  or  South  Asia 
respectively)  cannot  be  excluded.  But  such  external  stimulation 
need  not  have  occurred;  if  it  did,  it  was  effective  only  because  the 
rainfall  farmers  in  the  "stimulated"  areas  were  ready  to  recognize 
the  advantages  of  the  new  technique. 

growing  familiarity  with  the  early  sources  I  came  to  recognize  the  hydraulic  character 
of  the  core  areas  of  pre-Spanish  Mexico;  and  the  recent  work  of  Mexican  archaeologists 
and  historians  fortifies  me  in  my  conclusion  (see  Armillas,  1948:  109;  ibid.,  1951:  24  ft.; 
Palerm,  1952:  184  ff.).  I  quote  particularly  from  a  study  by  Palerm  which  provides  a 
wealth  of  historical  data  on  irrigation  in  both  pre-Spanish  and  early  Spanish  Meso- 

4.  The  majority  of  the  irrigation  systems  seem  to  have  been  only  of  local 
importance  and  did  not  require  large  hydraulic  undertakings.  Nevertheless,  im- 
portant works  were  undertaken  in  the  Valley  of  Mexico,  and  irrigation  appears 
in  concentrated  form  in  the  headwaters  of  the  rivers  Tula,  Lerma  and  Atlixco, 
and  in  the  contiguous  area  of  Colima- Jalisco. 

5.  The  largest  concentrations  and  most  important  works  of  irrigation  coincide, 
generally,  with  the  greatest  density  of  population,  with  the  distribution  of  the 
most  important  urban  centers,  and  with  the  nuclei  of  political  power  and  military 
expansion  [Palerm,  1954:  71]. 

How  far  back  can  we  trace  hydraulic  activities  in  Meso-America?  Armillas  believes 
that  the  great  cultural  advance  in  the  Hohokam  civilization  of  Arizona  (a.d.  500-900) 
was  probably  due  to  the  construction  of  irrigation  canals,  a  fact  which  is  archaeologi- 
cally  established.  And  since  the  remains  point  to  relations  between  Hohokam  and 
Meso-America,  he  believes  that  "the  same  factor  may  underlie  the  cultural  develop- 
ment in  certain  areas  of  western  Meso-America  during  this  period"  (Armillas,  1948: 
107).  The  Hohokam  data  tie  in  with  the  "classical"  period  of  Meso-American  history, 
which,  in  the  Mexican  lake  area,  probably  began  in  the  early  centuries  of  the  first 
millennium  a.d.  Armillas'  assumption  is  reinforced  by  a  recent  pollen  analysis,  which 
suggests  that  aridity  increased  during  the  late  "archaic"  period  (Sears,  1951:  59  ff.). 
Palerm  has  stated  that  this  climatic  change  may  have  caused  "the  emergence  or 
extension  of  irrigation"  in  Meso-America  (1955:  35). 

Increasing  aridity  could  explain  the  appearance  of  concentrated  populations  and 
the  spread  of  monumental  building  in  Meso-America.  But  what  we  know  about 
climatic  conditions  in  postglacial  times  warns  against  overrating  the  significance  of 
Sears'  valuable  findings.  The  spread  of  monumental  building  in  Meso-America  during 
the  early  part  of  the  first  millennium  a.d.  may  well  have  been  due  to  less  rain  and 
more  irrigation;  but  this  does  not  mean  that,  prior  to  the  "classical"  period,  precipita- 
tion was  sufficiently  regular  to  make  recourse  to  irrigation  unnecessary.  In  fact,  recent 
excavations  by  A.  Palerm  and  E.  Wolf  point  to  the  existence  of  hydraulic  activities  in 
the  Mexican  lake  area  by  the  middle  of  the  first  millennium  b.c. 

Other  investigations  undertaken  by  these  two  anthropologists  indicate  a  relatively 
late  date  for  the  building  of  comprehensive  water  works  by  the  territorial  state  of 
Texcoco,  which,  when  the  Spaniards  arrived,  was  second  only  to  Mexico.  Manifestly, 
acceptance  of  the  lateness  of  this  development  involves  no  rejection  of  the  earlier 
occurrence  of  hydraulic  activities  in  other  sections  of  the  lake  area.  Rather,  the  data 
suggest  that  Texcoco  moved  slowly  from  marginal  to  more  central  hydraulic  condi- 
tions. (For  the  problem  of  changing  hydraulic  density,  see  below,  Chap.  6.) 

CHAPTER    1,    D  21 

In  ancient  China  the  semi-arid  North  and  the  rice-growing  South 
established  noteworthy  forms  of  interaction.  The  ancient  Yangtze 
states  developed  early  and  perhaps  under  the  influence  of  the  rice 
culture  of  Southeast  Asia;  but  it  was  the  semi-arid  North  which, 
over  a  long  period  of  time,  constituted  the  dominant  center  of  power 
and  cultural  advance  in  Eastern  Asia.  In  India  the  arid,  semi-arid, 
and  humid  regions  of  the  North  became  historically  prominent 
before  the  excessively  humid  area  of  Bengal. 

These  developmental  sequences  are  presented  as  hypotheses.  Their 
validity,  or  lack  of  validity,  is  of  no  consequence  to  our  analysis  of 
societal  structure.  They  are  worth  noting,  in  the  main,  because  on 
the  basis  of  our  present  archaeological  and  prehistorical  knowledge 
they  suggest  a  highly  dynamic  interplay  between  the  various  types 
of  landscapes  which  combine  to  form  the  larger  areas  of  hydraulic 


ydraulic  economy— a  managerial  and 
genuinely  political  economy 

The  characteristics  of  hydraulic  economy  are  many,  but  three 
are  paramount.  Hydraulic  agriculture  involves  a  specific  type  of  divi- 
sion of  labor,  It  intensifies  cultivation.  And  it  necessitates  coopera- 
tion on  a  large  scale.  The  third  characteristic  has  been  described 
by  a  number  of  students  of  Oriental  farming.  The  second  has  been 
frequently  noted,  but  rarely  analyzed.  The  first  has  been  given 
practically  no  attention.  This  neglect  is  particularly  unfortunate, 
since  the  hydraulic  patterns  of  organization  and  operation  have 
decisively  affected  the  managerial  role  of  the  hydraulic  state. 

Economists  generally  consider  the  division  of  labor  and  coopera- 
tion key  prerequisites  of  modern  industry,  but  they  find  them  almost 
completely  lacking  in  farming.0  Their  claim  reflects  the  conditions 
of  Western  rainfall  agriculture.  For  this  type  of  agriculture  it  is 
indeed  by  and  large  correct. 

However,  the  economists  do  not  as  a  rule  so  limit  themselves. 
Speaking  of  agriculture  without  any  geographical  or  institutional 
qualification,  they  give  the  impression  that  their  thesis,  being  uni- 
versally valid,  applies  to  hydraulic  as  well  as  to  hydroagriculture  and 
rainfall  farming.  Comparative  examination  of  the  facts  quickly  dis- 
closes the  fallacy  of  this  contention. 

a.  For  early  formulations  of  this  view  see  Smith,  1937:  6;  Mill,  1909:  131,  144;  Marx, 
DK,  I:  300,  322  ff.  Modern  economists  have  perpetuated  and  even  sharpened  them. 
Writes  Seligman  (1914:  350):  "In  the  immense  domain  of  agricultural  production  the 
possibility  of  combination  is  almost  entirely  eliminated."  And  Marshall  (1946:  290): 
"In  agriculture  there  is  not  much  division  of  labour,  and  there  is  no  production  on 
a  very  large  scale." 


CHAPTER    2,    A  23 


1.  Preparatory  and  Protective  Operations 
Separated  from  Farming  Proper 

What  is  true  for  modern  industry — that  production  proper  depends 
on  a  variety  of  preparatory  and  protective  operations  6 — has  been  true 
for  hydraulic  agriculture  since  its  beginnings.  The  peculiarity  of 
the  preparatory  and  protective  hydraulic  operations  is  an  essential 
aspect  of  the  peculiarity  of  hydraulic  agriculture. 

a.  Large-scale  Preparatory  Operations  [Purpose:  Irrigation) 

The  combined  agricultural  activities  of  an  irrigation  farmer  are 
comparable  to  the  combined  agricultural  activities  of  a  rainfall 
farmer.  But  the  operations  of  the  former  include  types  of  labor 
(on-the-spot  ditching,  damming,  and  watering)  that  are  absent  in  the 
operations  of  the  latter.  The  magnitude  of  this  special  type  of  labor 
can  be  judged  from  the  fact  that  in  a  Chinese  village  a  peasant  may 
spend  from  20  to  over  50  per  cent  of  his  work  time  irrigating,  and 
that  in  many  Indian  villages  irrigation  is  the  most  time-consuming 
single  item  in  the  farmer's  budget.1 

Hydroagriculture  (small-scale  irrigation  farming)  involves  a  high 
intensity  of  cultivation  on  irrigated  fields — and  often  also  on  non- 
irrigated  fields.2  But  it  does  not  involve  a  division  of  labor  on  a 
communal,  territorial,  or  national  level.  Such  a  work  pattern  occurs 
only  when  large  quantities  of  water  have  to  be  manipulated.  Where- 
ever,  in  pre-industrial  civilizations,  man  gathered,  stored,  and  con- 
ducted water  on  a  large  scale,  we  find  the  conspicuous  division  be- 
tween preparatory  (feeding)  and  ultimate  labor  characteristic  of  all 
hydraulic  agriculture. 

b.  Large-scale  Protective  Operations  (Purpose:  Flood  Control) 

But  the  fight  against  the  disastrous  consequences  of  too  little  water 
may  involve  a  fight  against  the  disastrous  consequences  of  too  much 
water.  The  potentially  most  rewarding  areas  of  hydraulic  farming 

b.  For  the  concept  of  "previous  or  preparatory  labor"  see  Mill  1909:  29,  31.  The 
general  principle  was  already  indicated  by  Smith  (1937),  who,  when  discussing  the  di- 
vision of  operations  in  industry,  pointed  to  the  "growers  of  the  flax  and  the  wool" 
and  the  miners  as  providers  of  raw  material  (5  ff.,  11),  to  the  spinners  and  weavers  as 
engaged  in  special  processing  operations  (6),  and  to  the  makers  of  tools  as  combining 
elements  of  both  procedures  (11).  Mill  (1909:  36  ff.)  also  includes,  in  the  category  of 
previous  labor,  activities  aimed  at  protecting  industrial  production   proper. 


are  arid  and  semi-arid  plains  and  humid  regions  suitable  for  aquatic 
crops,  such  as  rice,  that  are  sufficiently  low-lying  to  permit  watering 
from  nearby  rivers.  These  rivers  usually  have  their  sources  in 
remote  mountains,  and  they  rise  substantially  as  the  summer  sun 
melts  part  of  the  snow  accumulated  there. 

Upstream  developments  of  this  kind  cause  annual  inundations  in 
Egypt,  Mesopotamia,  Turkestan,  India,  China,  and  in  the  Andean 
and  Mexican  zones  of  America.  In  semi-arid  areas  on-the-spot  rains 
create  additional  dangers  when  they  are  overconcentrated  (con- 
vectional)  or  irregular.  This  condition  prevails  in  North  China, 
northern  Mesopotamia  (Assyria),  and  the  Mexican  lake  region.  Thus 
a  hydraulic  community  that  resorts  to  preparatory  labor  to  safe- 
guard the  productive  use  of  water  may  also  have  to  resort  to  pro- 
tective labor  to  safeguard  its  crops  from  periodic  and  excessive 

When,  in  protohistorical  times,  the  Chinese  began  to  cultivate  the 
great  plains  of  North  China,  they  quickly  recognized  that  the  centers 
of  greatest  potential  fertility  were  also  the  centers  of  greatest  po- 
tential destruction.  To  quote  John  Lossing  Buck:  "Geologically 
speaking,  man  has  settled  these  plains  thousands  of  years  before  they 
were  ready  for  occupation.  .  .  ."  3  The  Chinese  built  huge  em- 
bankments which,  although  unable  to  remove  entirely  the  risk 
inhering  in  the  ambivalent  situation,  matched  and  even  surpassed 
in  magnitude  the  area's  preparatory  (feeding)  works.* 

In  India  enormous  problems  of  flood  control  are  posed  by  the 
Indus  River  8  and,  in  a  particularly  one-sided  way,  by  the  Ganges 
and  Brahmaputra  Rivers,  which  in  Bengal  create  optimal  conditions 
for  the  cultivation  of  rice  and  maximal  dangers  from  floods.  By 
1900  Bengal  boasted  ninety-seven  miles  of  larger  irrigation  canals 
and  1,298  miles  of  embankments.6 

In  ancient  Mesopotamia  even  watchful  rulers  could  not  com- 
pletely prevent  the  inundations  from  damaging  the  densely  settled 
plains.7  In  Turkestan  excessive  floods  periodically  threatened  the 
Zarafshan  River  Valley.8  In  Upper  Egypt  the  Nile,  in  very  high  flood, 
rises  one  meter  above  the  level  of  the  settled  countryside,  in  Middle 
Egypt  two  meters,  and  in  the  Delta  area  up  to  three  and  a  half 
meters.9  The  inhabitants  of  the  lake  area  of  Mexico  could  benefit 
from  its  fertility  only  if  they  accepted  the  periodic  overflow  of  its 
short,  irregular,  narrow  streams,10  which  they  sought  to  control 
through  a  variety  of  protective  works.  Thus  in  virtually  all  major 
hydraulic  civilizations,  preparatory  (feeding)  works  for  the  purpose 
of  irrigation  are  supplemented  by  and  interlocked  with  protective 
works  for  the  purpose  of  flood  control. 

chapter  2,  a  25 

2.  Cooperation 

A  study  of  the  hydraulic  patterns  of  China  (especially  North  China), 
India,  Turkestan,  Mesopotamia  (especially  Assyria),  Egypt,  or  Meso- 
America  (especially  the  Mexican  lake  region)  must  therefore  con- 
sider both  forms  of  agrohydraulic  activities.  Only  by  proceeding  in 
such  a  way  can  we  hope  to  determine  realistically  the  dimension 
and  character  of  their  organizational  key  device:  cooperation. 

a.  Dimension 

When  a  hydraulic  society  covers  only  a  single  locality,  all  adult 
males  may  be  assigned  to  one  or  a  few  communal  work  teams.  Vary- 
ing needs  and  circumstances  modify  the  size  of  the  mobilized  labor 
force.  In  hydraulic  countries  having  several  independent  sources  of 
water  supply,  the  task  of  controlling  the  moisture  is  performed  by  a 
number  of  separated  work  teams. 

Among  the  Hill  Suk  of  East  Africa,  "every  male  must  assist 
in  making  the  ditches."11  In  almost  all  Pueblos  "irrigation  or  clean- 
ing a  spring  is  work  for  all."  12  Among  the  Chagga,  the  maintenance 
of  a  relatively  elaborate  irrigation  system  is  assured  by  "the  participa- 
tion of  the  entire  people."  13  In  Bali  the  peasants  are  obliged  to 
render  labor  service  for  the  hydraulic  regional  unit,  the  subak,  to 
which  they  belong.14  The  masters  of  the  Sumerian  temple  economy 
expected  every  adult  male  within  their  jurisdiction  "to  participate 
in  the  digging  and  cleaning  of  the  canals."  15  Most  inscriptions  of 
Pharaonic  Egypt  take  this  work  pattern  for  granted.  Only  occasionally 
does  a  text  specify  the  character  of  the  universally  demanded  ac- 
tivities, among  which  lifting  and  digging  are  outstanding.16 

In  imperial  China  every  commoner  family  was  expected  on  de- 
mand to  provide  labor  for  hydraulic  and  other  public  services.  The 
political  and  legal  writings  of  India  indicate  a  similar  claim  on 
corviable  labor.17  The  laws  of  Inca  Peru  obliged  all  able-bodied  men 
to  render  corvee  service.18  In  ancient  Mexico  both  commoner  and 
upper-class  adolescents  were  instructed  in  the  techniques  of  digging 
and  damming.19  At  times  the  masters  of  this  hydraulic  area  levied 
the  manpower  of  several  territorial  states  for  their  gigantic  hydraulic 

In  19th-century  Egypt  "the  whole  corviable  population"  worked 
in  four  huge  shifts  on  Mehmed  Ali's  hydraulic  installations.  Each 
group  labored  on  the  canals  for  forty-five  days  until,  after  180 
days,  the  job  was  completed.21  From  1881  on,  at  a  time  of  decay  and 
disintegration,  "the  whole  of  the  corvee  fell  on  the  poorest  classes,"  22 
the  smaller  number  being  compensated  for  by  an  increase  in  the 


labor-time  to  ninety  days.  In  some  regions  the  conscripts  were  kept 
busy  "for  180  days." 


b.  Integration 

Orderly  cooperation  involves  planned  integration.  Such  integra- 
tion is  especially  necessary  when  the  objectives  are  elaborate  and  the 
cooperating  teams  large. 

Above  the  tribal  level,  hydraulic  activities  are  usually  compre- 
hensive. Most  writers  who  mention  the  cooperative  aspect  of  hy- 
draulic agriculture  think  in  the  main  of  digging,  dredging,  and 
damming;  and  the  organizational  tasks  involved  in  these  labors  is 
certainly  considerable.  But  the  planners  of  a  major  hydraulic  enter- 
prise are  confronted  with  problems  of  a  much  more  complex  kind. 
How  many  persons  are  needed?  And  where  can  such  persons  be 
found?  On  the  basis  of  previously  made  registers,  the  planners  must 
determine  the  quota  and  criteria  of  selection.  Notification  follows 
selection,  and  mobilization  notification.  The  assembled  groups  fre- 
quently proceed  in  quasimilitary  columns.  Having  reached  their 
destination,  the  buck  privates  of  the  hydraulic  army  must  be  dis- 
tributed in  proper  numbers  and  according  to  whatever  division  of 
operations  (spading,  carrying  of  mud,  etc.)  is  customary.  If  raw 
materials  such  as  straw,  fagots,  lumber,  or  stone  have  to  be  procured, 
auxiliary  operations  are  organized;  and  if  the  work  teams — in  toto 
or  in  part — must  be  provided  with  food  and  drink,  still  other  ways 
of  appropriation,  transport,  and  distribution  have  to  be  developed. 
Even  in  its  simplest  form,  agrohydraulic  operations  necessitate  sub- 
stantial integrative  action.  In  their  more  elaborate  variations,  they 
involve  extensive  and  complex  organizational  planning. 

c.  Leadership 

All  teamwork  requires  team  leaders;  and  the  work  of  large  inte- 
grated teams  requires  on-the-spot  leaders  and  disciplinarians  as  well 
as  over-all  organizers  and  planners.  The  great  enterprises  of  hydraulic 
agriculture  involve  both  types  of  direction.  The  foreman  usually 
performs  no  menial  work  at  all;  and  except  for  a  few  engineering 
specialists  the  sergeants  and  officers  of  the  labor  force  are  essentially 

To  be  sure,  the  physical  element — including  threats  of  punish- 
ment and  actual  coercion — is  never  absent.  But  here,  if  anywhere,  re- 
corded experience  and  calculated  foresight  are  crucial.  It  is  the  cir- 
cumspection, resourcefulness,  and  integrative  skill  of  the  supreme 

CHAPTER    2,    B  27 

leader  and  his  aides  which  play  the  decisive  role  in  initiating,  accom- 
plishing, and  perpetuating  the  major  works  of  hydraulic  economy. 

d.  Hydraulic  Leadership — Political  Leadership 


The  effective  management  of  these  works  involves  an  organizational 
web  which  covers  either  the  whole,  or  at  least  the  dynamic  core,  of 
the  country's  population.  In  consequence,  those  who  control  this  net- 
work are  uniquely  prepared  to  wield  supreme  political  power. 

From  the  standpoint  of  the  historical  effect,  it  makes  no  difference 
whether  the  heads  of  a  hydraulic  government  were  originally  peace 
chiefs,  war  leaders,  priests,  priest-chiefs,  or  hydraulic  officials  sans 
phrase.  Among  the  Chagga,  the  hydraulic  corvee  is  called  into  action 
by  the  same  horn  that  traditionally  rallied  the  tribesmen  for  war.24 
Among  the  Pueblo  Indians  the  war  chiefs  (or  priests),  although  sub- 
ordinated to  the  cacique  (the  supreme  chief),  direct  and  supervise  the 
communal  activities.25  The  early  hydraulic  city  states  of  Mesopotamia 
seem  to  have  been  for  the  most  part  ruled  by  priest-kings.  In  China 
the  legendary  trail  blazer  of  governmental  water  control,  the  Great 
Yii,  is  said  to  have  risen  from  the  rank  of  a  supreme  hydraulic  func- 
tionary to  that  of  king,  becoming,  according  to  protohistorical  rec- 
ords, the  founder  of  the  first  hereditary  dynasty,  Hsia. 

No  matter  whether  traditionally  nonhydraulic  leaders  initiated  or 
seized  the  incipient  hydraulic  "apparatus,"  or  whether  the  masters  of 
this  apparatus  became  the  motive  force  behind  all  important  public 
functions,0  there  can  be  no  doubt  that  in  all  these  cases  the  resulting 
regime  was  decisively  shaped  by  the  leadership  and  social  control  re- 
quired by  hydraulic  agriculture. 


With  regard  to  operational  form,  hydraulic  agriculture  exhibits 
important  similarities  to  heavy  industry.  Both  types  of  economic  ac- 
tivities are  preparatory  to  the  ultimate  processes  of  production.  Both 

c.  Riistow,  who  in  general  accepts  Kern's  view  concerning  the  correlation  between 
large-scale  and  government-directed  water  control  and  the  centralized  and  despotic  char- 
acter of  the  state  in  ancient  Egypt  and  Mesopotamia,  assumes  that  in  these  areas 
nomadic  conquerors  developed  the  hydraulic  works  after  establishing  conquest  em- 
pires (Riistow,  OG,  I:  306). 

Patterns  of  leadership  and  discipline  traditional  to  conquering  groups  could  be,  and 
probably  were,  invoked  in  establishing  certain  hydraulic  governments;  but  Pueblo, 
Chagga,  and  Hawaiian  society  show  that  such  formative  patterns  could  also  be  en- 
dogenous. In  any  case,  the  ethnographic  and  historical  facts  point  to  a  multiple  rather 
than  a  single  origin  for  hydraulic  societies. 


provide  the  workers  with  essential  material  for  these  ultimate  proc- 
esses. And  both  tend  to  be  comprehensive,  "heavy."  For  these  rea- 
sons the  large  enterprises  of  hydraulic  agriculture  may  be  designated 
as  "heavy  water  works." 

But  the  dissimilarities  are  as  illuminating  as  the  similarities.  The 
heavy  water  works  of  hydraulic  agriculture  and  the  heavy  industry 
of  modern  economy  are  distinguished  by  a  number  of  basic  differ- 
ences, which,  properly  denned,  may  aid  us  in  more  clearly  recogniz- 
ing the  peculiarities  of  hydraulic  society. 

Heavy  water  works  feed  the  ultimate  agrarian  producer  one  cru- 
cial auxiliary  material:  water;  heavy  industry  provides  auxiliary  and 
raw  materials  of  various  kinds,  including  tools  for  finishing  and  heavy 
industry.  Heavy  water  works  fulfill  important  protective  functions 
for  the  country  at  large;  the  protective  installations  (buildings,  etc.) 
of  industry  do  not.  Heavy  water  works  cover  at  their  inception  a  rel- 
atively large  area;  and  with  the  development  of  the  hydraulic  order 
they  are  usually  spread  still  further.  The  operations  of  heavy  indus- 
try are  spatially  much  more  restricted.  At  first,  and  for  a  number  of 
preliminary  processes,  they  may  depend  on  small  and  dispersed  shops; 
with  the  growth  of  the  industrial  order  they  tend  to  merge  into  one, 
or  a  few,  major  establishments. 

The  character  of  the  labor  force  varies  with  these  spatial  and  op- 
erational differences.  Heavy  water  works  are  best  served  by  a  widely 
distributed  personnel,  whereas  heavy  industry  requires  the  workers 
to  reside  near  the  locally  restricted  "big"  enterprises  which  employ 
them.  The  hydraulic  demand  is  satisfied  by  adult  peasant  males,  who 
continue  to  reside  in  their  respective  villages;  whereas  the  industrial 
demand  is  satisfied  by  a  geographically  concentrated  labor  force. 

The  bulk  of  the  hydraulic  workers  are  expected  to  remain  peas- 
ants, and  in  most  cases  they  are  mobilized  for  a  relatively  short 
period  only — at  best  for  a  few  days,  at  worst  for  any  time  that  will 
not  destroy  their  agricultural  usefulness.  Thus  division  of  agrohy- 
draulic  labor  is  not  accompanied  by  a  corresponding  division  of 

The  contrast  to  the  labor  policy  of  heavy  industry  is  manifest.  Dif- 
ferent from  heavy  water  works,  which  may  be  created  and  maintained 
during  a  fraction  of  the  year,  heavy  industry  operates  most  effectively 
when  it  operates  continuously.  The  industrial  employers  prefer  to 
occupy  their  personnel  throughout  the  year;  and  with  the  growth  of 
the  industrial  system  full-time  labor  became  the  rule.  Thus  division 
of  industrial  labor  moves  toward  a  more  or  less  complete  division  of 

The  two  sectors  are  also  differently  administered.  In  the  main, 

CHAPTER    2,    C  29 

modern  heavy  industry  is  directed  by  private  owners  or  managers. 
The  heavy  water  works  of  hydraulic  agriculture  are  directed  es- 
sentially by  the  government.  The  government  also  engages  in  certain 
other  large  enterprises,  which,  in  varying  combinations,  supplement 
the  agrohydraulic  economy  proper. 


Among  the  intellectual  functions  fulfilled  by  the  leaders  of  agro- 
hydraulic  activities,  some  are  only  indirectly  connected  with  the 
organization  of  men  and  material;  but  the  relation  is  highly  signifi- 
cant nevertheless.  Time  keeping  and  calendar  making  are  essential 
for  the  success  of  all  hydraulic  economies;  and  under  special  con- 
ditions special  operations  of  measuring  and  calculating  may  be 
urgently  needed.1  The  way  in  which  these  tasks  are  executed  affect 
both  the  political  and  the  cultural  development  of  hydraulic  society. 

To  be  sure,  man  is  deeply  concerned  about  the  swing  of  the  seasons 
under  all  forms  of  extractive  economy  and  throughout  the  agrarian 
world.  But  in  most  cases  he  is  content  to  determine  in  a  general  way 
when  spring  or  summer  begin,  when  cold  will  set  in,  when  rain  or 
snow  will  fall.  In  hydraulic  civilizations  such  general  knowledge  is 
insufficient.  In  areas  of  full  aridity  it  is  crucial  to  be  prepared  for 
the  rise  of  the  rivers  whose  overflow,  properly  handled,  brings 
fertility  and  life  and  whose  unchecked  waters  leave  death  and 
devastation  in  their  wake.  The  dikes  have  to  be  repaired  in  the 
proper  season  so  that  they  will  hold  in  times  of  inundation;  and 
the  canals  have  to  be  cleaned  so  that  the  moisture  will  be  satis- 
factorily distributed.  In  semi-arid  areas  receiving  a  limited  or  uneven 
rainfall  an  accurate  calendar  is  similarly  important.  Only  when  the 
embankments,  canals,  and  reservoirs  are  ready  and  in  good  condition 
can  the  scanty  precipitation  be  fully  utilized. 

The  need  for  reallocating  the  periodically  flooded  fields  and 
determining  the  dimension  and  bulk  of  hydraulic  and  other  struc- 
tures provide  continual  stimulation  for  developments  in  geometry 
and  arithmetic.  Herodotus  ascribes  the  beginnings  of  geometry  in 
Egypt  to  the  need  for  annually  remeasuring  the  inundated  land.2 

No  matter  whether  the  earliest  scientific  steps  in  this  direction  were 
made  in  the  Nile  Valley  or  in  Mesopotamia,  the  basic  correlation  is 
eminently  plausible.  Obviously  the  pioneers  and  masters  of  hydraulic 
civilization  were  singularly  well  equipped  to  lay  the  foundations  for 
two  major  and  interrelated  sciences:  astronomy  and  mathematics. 

As  a  rule,  the  operations  of  time  keeping  and  scientific  measuring 


and  counting  were  performed  by  official  dignitaries  or  by  priestly 
(or  secular)  specialists  attached  to  the  hydraulic  regime.  Wrapped  in 
a  cloak  of  magic  and  astrology  and  hedged  with  profound  secrecy, 
these  mathematical  and  astronomical  operations  became  the  means 
both  for  improving  hydraulic  production  and  bulwarking  the 
superior  power  of  the  hydraulic  leaders. 


The  masters  of  the  hydraulic  state  did  not  confine  their  activities  to 
matters  immediately  connected  with  agriculture.  The  methods  of 
cooperation  which  were  so  effective  in  the  sphere  of  crop-raising 
were  easily  applied  to  a  variety  of  other  large  tasks. 

Certain  types  of  works  are  likely  to  precede  others.  Generally 
speaking,  the  irrigation  canal  is  older  than  the  navigation  canal;  and 
hydraulic  digging  and  damming  occurred  prior  to  the  building  of 
highways.  But  often  derivative  steps  were  taken  before  the  original 
activities  had  progressed  far,  and  different  regional  conditions  favored 
different  evolutionary  sequences.  Thus  the  divergencies  of  inter- 
action and  growth  are  great.  They  include  many  constructional 
activities  ab©ve  and  beyond  the  sphere  of  hydraulic  agriculture.* 


a.  Aqueducts  and  Reservoirs  Providing  Drinking  Water 

A  commonwealth  able  to  transfer  water  for  purposes  of  irriga- 
tion readily  applies  its  hydraulic  know-how  to  the  providing  of 
drinking  water.  The  need  for  such  action  was  slight  in  the  greater 
part  of  Medieval  Europe,  where  the  annual  precipitation  furnished 
sufficient  ground  water  for  the  wells  on  which  most  towns  depended 
for  their  water  supply.1 

Even  in  the  hydraulic  world,  drinking  water  is  not  necessarily 
an  issue.  Wherever  rivers,  streams,  or  springs  carry  enough  moisture 

a.  Anyone  interested  in  studying  the  technical  and  organizational  details  of  a  major 
hydraulic  order  may  consult  Willcocks'  admirable  description  of  irrigation  and  flood 
control  in  19th-century  Egypt  (Willcocks,  1889:  passim).  A  comprehensive  survey  of  the 
hydraulic  conditions  in  India  at  the  close  of  the  19th  century  has  been  made  by  the 
Indian  Irrigation  Commission  (RRCAI).  In  my  study  of  Chinese  economics  and  society 
I  have  systematically  analyzed  the  ecological  foundations  and  the  various  aspects  of 
China's  traditional  hydraulic  order  (Wittfogel,  1931:  61-93,  188-300,  and  410-56).  Today 
we  also  have  an  archaeological  account  of  the  growth  of  hydraulic  and  other  construc- 
tions over  time  and  for  a  limited,  but  evidently,  representative  area:  the  Virii  Valley 
in  Peru  (see  Willey,  1953:  344-89)- 

CHAPTER    2,    D  £1 

to  satisfy  the  drinking  needs  of  the  population  throughout  the  year, 
no  major  problem  arises.  The  inhabitants  of  the  Nile  and  Ganges 
Valleys  and  of  many  similar  areas  did  not  have  to  construct  elaborate 
aqueducts  for  this  purpose. 

The  irregular  flow  of  rivers  or  streams  or  the  relatively  easy  access 
to  fresh  and  clear  mountain  water  has  stimulated  in  many  hydraulic 
landscapes  the  construction  of  comprehensive  installations  for  the 
storage  and  distribution  of  drinking  water.  In  America  great  aque- 
ducts were  built  by  the  hydraulic  civilizations  of  the  Andean  zone 
and  Meso-America.2  The  many  reservoirs  (tanks)  of  Southern  India 
frequently  serve  several  uses;  but  near  the  large  residential  centers 
the  providing  of  drinking  water  is  usually  paramount.  In  certain 
areas  of  the  Near  East,  such  as  Syria  and  Assyria,  brilliantly  designed 
aqueducts  have  satisfied  the  water  needs  of  many  famous  cities, 
Tyre,3  Antioch,4  and  Nineveh  5  among  them.  In  the  Western  world 
of  rainfall  agriculture,  aqueducts  were  built  primarily  by  such 
Mediterranean  peoples  as  the  Greeks  and  the  Romans,  who  since 
the  dawn  of  history  maintained  contact  with — and  learned  from — 
the  technically  advanced  countries  of  Western  Asia  and  North  Africa. 
No  doubt  the  Greeks  and  Romans  would  have  been  able  to  solve 
their  drinking-water  problem  without  inspiration  from  the  outside; 
but  the  form  of  their  answer  strongly  suggests  the  influence  of 
Oriental  engineering.6 

b.  Navigation  Canals 

Among  the  great  agrarian  conformations  Of  history,  only  hydraulic 
society  has  constructed  navigation  canals  of  any  major  size.  The 
seafaring  Greeks,  making  the  Mediterranean  their  highway,  avoided 
an  issue  which  the  ancient  city  states  were  poorly  equipped  to  handle. 
The  not-too-numerous  Roman  canals  were  apparently  all  dug  at  a 
time  when  the  growing  Orientalization  of  the  governmental  ap- 
paratus stimulated,  among  other  things,  a  growing  interest  in  all 
kinds  of  public  works.7 

The  rainfall  farmers  of  Medieval  Europe,  like  their  counterparts 
elsewhere,  shunned  rather  than  sought  the  marshy  river  lowlands. 
And  their  feudal  masters  paid  little  attention  to  the  condition  of  the 
watercourses,  for  which  they  had  no  use.  Still  less  did  they  feel 
obliged  to  construct  additional  and  artificial  rivers — canals.  Few  if 
any  important  canals  were  built  during  the  Middle  Ages,8  and 
medieval  trade  and  transport  were  seriously  handicapped  by  the 
state  of  the  navigable  rivers.9 

It  was  in  connection  with  the  rise  of  a  governmentally  encouraged 


commercial  and  industrial  capitalism  that  the  West  began  to  build 
canals  on  a  conspicuous  scale.  The  "pioneer  of  the  canals  of  modern 
Europe,"  the  French  Canal  du  Midi,  was  completed  only  in  the 
second  half  of  the  17th  century,  in  1681,10  that  is,  little  more  than  a 
century  before  the  end  of  the  absolutist  regime.  And  in  the  classical 
country  of  inland  navigation,  England,11  "little  .  .  .  was  done  in 
making  canals  .  .  .  until  the  middle  of  the  eighteenth  century"  12 — 
that  is,  until  a  time  well  after  the  close  of  England's  absolutist  period 
and  immediately  prior  to  the  beginning  of  the  machine  age. 

As  stated  above,  the  members  of  a  hydraulic  commonwealth  felt 
quite  differently  about  the  management  of  natural  and  artificial 
watercourses.  They  approached  the  fertility-bearing  rivers  as  closely 
as  possible,  and  in  doing  so  they  had  to  find  ways  of  draining  the 
lowland  marshes  and  strengthening  and  reshaping  the  river  banks. 
Naturally  the  question  of  inland  navigation  did  not  arise  everywhere. 
Existing  rivers  and  streams  might  be  suitable  for  irrigation,  but  not 
for  shipping  (Pueblos,  Chagga,  Highland  Peru);  or  the  ocean  might 
prove  an  ideal  means  of  transportation  (Hawaii,  Coastal  Peru).  In 
certain  localities  inland  navigation  was  satisfactorily  served  by  man- 
managed  rivers  (Egypt,  India)  and  lakes  (Mexico)  plus  whatever  ir- 
rigation canals  were  large  enough  to  accommodate  boats  (Meso- 

But  when  supplementary  watercourses  were  not  only  possible  but 
desirable,  the  organizers  of  agrohydraulic  works  had  little  difficulty 
in  utilizing  their  cooperative  "apparatus"  to  make  them  available. 
The  new  canals  might  be  only  minor  additions  to  the  existing 
watercourses.  The  ancient  Egyptians  constructed  canals  in  order  to 
circumnavigate  impassable  cataracts,  and  they  temporarily  connected 
the  Nile  and  the  Red  Sea;  13  but  these  enterprises  had  little  effect 
on  the  over-all  pattern  of  the  country's  hydraulic  economy.  In  other 
instances,  navigation  canals  assumed  great  importance.  They  satisfied 
the  needs  of  the  masters  of  the  hydraulic  state:  the  transfer  of  parts 
of  the  agrarian  surplus  to  the  administrative  centers  and  the  trans- 
port of  messengers  and  troops. 

In  Thailand  (Siam)  the  different  hydraulic  tasks  overlapped.  In 
addition  to  the  various  types  of  productive  and  protective  hydraulic 
installations,  the  government  constructed  in  the  centers  of  rice 
production  and  state  power  a  number  of  canals,  which  essentially 
served  as  "waterways,"  that  is,  as  a  means  for  transporting  the  rice 
surplus  to  the  capital.14 

The  corresponding  development  in  China  is  particularly  well 
documented.  In  the  large  plains  of  North  China  the  beginnings  of 
navigation  canals  go  back  to  the  days  of  the  territorial  states — that 

CHAPTER    2,    D  33 

is,  to  the  period  prior  to  221  B.C.,  when  the  various  regional  govern- 
ments were  still  administered  by  officials  who  were  given  office  lands 
in  payment  for  their  services.  The  difference  between  the  state- 
centered  system  of  land  grants  as  it  prevailed  in  early  China  and 
the  knighthood  feudalism  of  Medieval  Europe  is  spectacularly  dem- 
onstrated by  the  almost  complete  absence  of  public  works  in  feudal 
Europe  and  the  enormous  development  of  such  works — hydraulic 
and  otherwise — in  the  territorial  states  of  China.6 

The  geographical  and  administrative  unification  of  China  which 
vastly  increased  the  political  need  for  navigation  canals  also  in- 
creased the  state's  organizational  power  to  build  them.  The  first 
centuries  of  the  empire  saw  a  great  advance  not  only  in  the  con- 
struction of  irrigation  canals,15  reservoirs,  and  protective  river  dikes 
but  also  in  the  digging  of  long  canals  for  administrative  and  fiscal 

When,  after  several  centuries  of  political  fragmentation,  the  Sui 
rulers  at  the  end  of  the  6th  century  again  unified  "all-under-heaven," 
they  bulwarked  the  new  political  structure  by  creating  out  of  earlier 
and  substantial  beginnings  the  gigantic  Imperial  Canal,  significantly 
known  in  China  as  Yiin  Ho,  "the  Transport  Canal."  This  canal  ex- 
tends today  for  about  800  miles,  its  length  equaling  the  distance 
from  the  American-Canadian  Great  Lakes  to  the  Gulf  of  Mexico  or 

b.  Previously  I  viewed  Chou  China  as  a  feudal  society  exhibiting  Oriental  features, 
which  appeared  early  and  became  increasingly  conspicuous  until,  at  the  close  of  the 
period,  they  prevailed  completely  (Wittfogel,  1931:  278  ft.;  ibid.,  1935:  40  ft.).  The  idea 
of  a  society  that  crosses  the  institutional  divide  is  entirely  compatible  with  the  findings 
of  the  present  inquiry  (see  below,  Chap.  6);  and  by  interpreting  Chou  society  in  this 
way,  I  would  not  have  had  to  change  a  long-held  position.  But  intensified  comparative 
studies  compel  me  to  change.  The  arid  and  semi-arid  settings  of  North  China  (17 
inches  annual  rainfall  in  the  old  Chou  domain  and  24  inches  in  the  domain  of  the 
pre-Chou  dynasty,  Shang)  suggest  hydraulic  agriculture  for  the  ancient  core  areas. 
The  lay  of  the  land,  the  summer  floods,  and  the  periodic  silting-up  of  the  rivers  neces- 
sitated comprehensive  measures  of  flood  control  especially  in  the  heartland  of  Shang 
power.  A  realistic  interpretation  of  legends  and  protohistorical  sources  (cf.  Wittfogel 
and  Goldfrank,  1943:  passim)  points  to  the  rise  of  a  hydraulic  way  of  life  long  before 
the  Shang  dynasty,  whose  artifacts  (bronzes)  and  inscriptions  reflect  a  highly  developed 
agrarian  civilization  with  refined  techniques  of  record  keeping,  calculations,  and  astron- 
omy. The  recognizable  institutions  of  early  Chou  are  those  of  a  hydraulic  society, 
which  gradually  intensified  its  managerial  and  bureaucratic  "density"  (for  this  con- 
cept see  below,  Chap.  6).  The  Chou  sovereigns  behaved  toward  the  territorial  rulers 
not  as  the  first  among  equals  but  as  supreme  masters  responsible  only  to  Heaven.  It 
was  not  their  fault  that  their  despotic  claims,  which  possibly  imitated  Shang  precedents, 
were  realized  imperfectly  and  with  decreasing  effect.  In  contrast,  the  rulers  of  the  ter- 
ritorial states  were  strong  enough  to  proceed  absolutistically  within  their  respective 
realms.  The  lands  that  they  assigned  were  given  not  in  a  contractual  way  and  to  in- 
dependently organized  (corporated)  knights  and  barons,  but  to  office  holders  and  persons 
permitted  to  enjoy  sinecures.  They  were  not  fiefs  but  office  lands  (see  below,  Chaps.  6-8). 


— in  European  terms — the  distance  from  Berlin  to  Bordeaux  or  from 
Hamburg  to  Rome.  For  labor  on  part  o£  this  gigantic  water  work 
the  Sui  government  mobilized  in  the  regions  north  of  the  Yellow 
River  alone  "more  than  a  million  of  men  and  women,"  "  that  is, 
almost  one-half  of  the  total  population  which  England  is  said  to  have 
had  from  the  14th  to  the  16th  century.18 

The  gigantic  effort  involved  in  banking  the  rivers  and  building 
the  canals  of  China  is  indicated  by  the  American  agronomist,  F.  H. 
King,  who  conservatively  estimates  the  combined  lengths  of  the 
man-managed  watercourses  of  China,  Korea,  and  Japan  at  some 
200,000  miles.  "Forty  canals  across  the  United  States  from  east  to 
west  and  sixty  from  north  to  south  would  not  equal  in  number  of 
miles  those  in  these  three  countries  today.  Indeed,  it  is  probable  that 
this  estimate  is  not  too  large  for  China  alone." 


2.  Large  Non/iydraulic  Constructions 

a.  Huge  Defense  Structures 

The  need  for  comprehensive  works  of  defense  arises  almost  as  soon 
as  hydraulic  agriculture  is  practiced.  Contrary  to  the  rainfall  farmer, 
who  may  shift  his  fields  with  relative  ease,  the  irrigation  farmer 
finds  himself  depending  on  an  unmovable,  if  highly  rewarding, 
source  of  fertility.  In  the  early  days  of  hydraulic  cultivation  reliance 
on  a  fixed  system  of  water  supply  must  in  many  cases  have  driven 
the  agrarian  community  to  build  strong  defenses  around  its  homes 
and  fields. 

For  this  purpose  hydraulic  agriculture  proved  suggestive  in  two 
ways:  it  taught  man  how  to  handle  all  kinds  of  building  materials, 
earth,  stone,  timber,  etc.,  and  it  trained  him  to  manipulate  these 
materials  in  an  organized  way.  The  builders  of  canals  and  dams 
easily  became  the  builders  of  trenches,  towers,  palisades,  and  ex- 
tended defense  walls. 

In  this,  as  in  all  corresponding  cases,  the  character  and  magnitude 
of  the  operations  were  determined  by  internal  and  external  cir- 
cumstances. Surrounded  by  aggressive  neighbors,  the  Pueblo  Indians 
ingeniously  utilized  whatever  building  material  was  at  hand  to 
protect  their  settlements,  which  rarely  comprised  more  than  a  few 
hundred  inhabitants."  The  fortress-like  quality  of  their  villages  is 
manifest  to  the  present-day  anthropologist;   it  struck  the  Spanish 

c.  Castaneda,  1896:  512.  Bandelier  upholds  Castaneda's  figures  against  divergent 
statements  made  in  other  early  Spanish  sources  (Bandelier,  FR,  I:  120  ff.  and  nn.;  cf. 
ibid.,  DH:  312,  46  ft.,  171-3). 

CHAPTER    2,    D  35 

conquistador es,  who  were  forced  at  times  to  besiege  a  single  settle- 
ment for  days  and  weeks  before  they  could  take  it.d  Rigid  coopera- 
tion assured  security  of  residence,  just  as  it  assured  success  in  farm- 
ing. An  early  observer  stresses  this  aspect  of  Pueblo  life:  "They  all 
work  together  to  build  the  villages."  * 

d.  Castaneda,  who  was  the  official  chronicler  of  the  first  Spanish  expedition,  notes 
(1896:  494)  that  the  defense  towers  of  a  large  Zuni  settlement  were  equipped  with 
"embrassures  and  loopholes  ...  for  defending  the  roofs  of  the  different  stories."  He 
adds,  "The  roofs  have  to  be  reached  first,  and  these  upper  houses  are  the  means 
of  defending  them."  The  experiences  of  the  second  expedition  confirmed  and  supple- 
mented the  initial  observations.  Gallegos  concludes  his  remarks  concerning  Pueblo 
building  by  referring  to  the  movable  wooden  ladders  "by  means  of  which  they  climb 
to  their  quarters."  At  night  "they  lift  them  up  since  they  wage  war  with  one  another" 
(Gallegos,  1927:  265).  Obregon  also  stresses  the  military  value  of  the  ladders;  in 
addition,  he  explains  how  the  edifices  themselves  served  to  protect  the  community: 
"These  houses  have  walls  and  loopholes  from  which  they  defend  themselves  and 
attack  their  enemies  in  their  battles"  (Obregon,  1928:  293). 

One  of  Coronado's  lieutenants,  approaching  certain  Tigua  settlements,  "found  the 
villages  closed  by  palisades."  The  Pueblos,  whose  inhabitants  had  been  subjected  to 
various  forms  of  extortion  and  insult  "were  all  ready  for  fighting.  Nothing  could  be 
done,  because  they  would  not  come  down  onto  the  plain  and  the  villages  are  so  strong 
that  the  Spaniards  could  not  dislodge  them."  Attacking  a  hostile  village,  the  Spanish 
soldiers  reached  the  upper  story  by  surprise  tactics.  They  remained  in  this  dangerous 
position  for  a  whole  day,  unable  to  prevail  until  the  Mexican  Indians,  who  accom- 
panied them,  approached  the  Pueblo  from  below,  digging  their  way  in  and  smoking  out 
the  defenders  (Castaneda,  1896:  496.  For  a  discussion  of  Castaneda's  report  see  Bandelier, 
DH:  38  fL). 

Besieging  a  large  Tigua  settlement,  Coronado's  men  had  an  opportunity  to  test 
thoroughly  the  defense  potential  of  a  Pueblo  which  was  not  taken  by  surprise:  "As  the 
enemy  had  had  several  days  to  provide  themselves  with  stores,  they  threw  down 
such  quantities  of  rocks  upon  our  men  that  many  of  them  were  laid  down,  and  they 
wounded  nearly  a  hundred  with  arrows."  The  siege  lasted  for  seven  weeks.  During 
this  time,  the  Spaniards  made  several  assaults;  but  they  were  unable  to  take  the 
Pueblo.  The  villagers  eventually  abandoned  their  fortress-like  bulwark,  not  because 
the  aggressors  had  penetrated  their  defenses,  but  because  of  lack  of  water  (Castaneda, 
1896:  498  fL;  cf.  RDS:  576).  Bandelier  supplements  Castaneda's  report  of  this  significant 
event  by  an  account  given  by  Mota  Padilla,  an  18th-century  author,  who  claims  to  have 
had  access  to  the  original  writings  of  still  another  member  of  Coronado's  staff 
(Bandelier,  DH:  323).  Mota  Padilla's  version  contains  a  number  of  details  which 
reveal  the  techniques  of  attack  as  well  as  the  strength  and  ingenuity  of  the  defense. 
Some  of  the  Spaniards  "reached  the  top  of  the  wall,  but  there  they  found  that  the 
natives  had  removed  the  roofs  of  many  (upper)  rooms,  so  that  there  was  no  communica- 
tion between  them,  and  as  there  were  little  towers  at  short  distances  from  each  other, 
from  which  missiles  were  showered  upon  the  assailants  on  the  top,  the  Spaniards  had 
more  than  sixty  of  their  number  hurt,  three  of  whom  died  of  their  wounds"  (ibid.,  48). 

e.  Castaneda  (1896:  520)  qualifies  this  general  statement  by  saying  that  the  women 
were  "engaged  in  making  the  [adobe]  mixture  and  the  walls,  while  the  men  bring 
the  wood  and  put  it  in  place."  Modern  reports  assign  the  above  duties  to  the  men 
and  credit  them  in  addition  with  erecting  the  walls,  the  construction  labors  of  the 
women  being  confined  to  plastering  (White,  1932:   33;  cf.  Parsons,   1932:   212).  The 


The  Chagga  were  equally  effective  in  the  transfer  of  their  hydraulic 
work  patterns  to  military  constructions.  Their  great  chieftain, 
Horombo  (/?.  1830),  used  "thousands  of  people"  to  build  great 
fortifications,  which  in  part  still  stand  today.20  "The  walls  of  these 
fortifications  are  some  six  feet  high,  and  in  length  305  yards  on  the 
south  side,  443  yards  on  the  north,  277  yards  on  the  east  side,  and 
137  yards  on  the  west  side."  21  Tunnels,  extended  trenches,  and  dug- 
outs added  to  the  defense  of  the  walled  settlements,  which  appeared 
early  in  the  history  of  the  Chagga.22  "Deep  dugouts  excavated  under 
the  huts  and  often  leading  into  underground  passages  with  outlets 
at  some  distance,  were  used  for  refuge.  Almost  every  country  was 
secured  with  great  war  trenches,  which  are  everywhere  to  be  seen 
at  the  present  day  and  are  often  still  of  great  depth."  23 

These  instances  show  what  even  primitive  hydraulic  societies  could 
achieve  in  the  field  of  defense  construction,  when  they  strained  their 
cooperative  resources  to  the  full.  Higher  hydraulic  societies  em- 
ployed and  varied  the  basic  principle  in  accordance  with  technical 
and  institutional  circumstances. 

In  pre-Columbian  Mexico  the  absence  of  suitable  labor  animals 
placed  a  limitation  on  transport,  and  while  this  restricted  siege  craft, 
it  did  not  preclude  the  struggle  for  or  the  defense  of  the  cities.  In 
emergencies  many  government-built  hydraulic  works  in  the  main 
lake  area  fulfilled  military  functions,  just  as  the  monster  palaces  and 
temples  served  as  bastions  against  an  invading  enemy.2*  Recent  re- 
search draws  attention  to  various  types  of  Mexican  forts  and  defense 
walls.25  Because  of  their  size  and  importance,  they  may  safely  be 
adjudged  as  state-directed  enterprises.  The  colossal  fortresses  and 
walls  of  pre-Spanish  Peru,  which  astonished  early  and  recent  ob- 
servers,26 are  known  to  have  been  built  at  the  order  of  the  govern- 
ment and  by  "incredibly"  large  teams  of  corvee  laborers.27 

Many  texts  and  pictorial  representations  have  portrayed  the  walls, 
gates,  and  towers  of  ancient  Egypt,  Sumer,  Babylonia,  Assyria,  and 
Syria.  The  Arthashdstra  indicates  the  systematic  manner  in  which  the 
rulers  of  the  first  great  Indian  empire  treated  problems  of  fortifica- 
tion and  defense.28  At  the  dawn  of  Chinese  history  new  capitals  were 
created  at  the  ruler's  command,  and  during  the  last  centuries  of  the 
Chou  period  the  territorial  states  used  their  corviable  manpower  to 
wall  entire  frontier  regions,  not  only  against  the  tribal  barbarians 
but  also  against  each  other.  In  the  3d  century  b.c.  the  unifier  of 

divergence  between  the  early  and  recent  descriptions  may  reflect  an  actual  institutional 
change  or  merely  a  difference  in  the  accuracy  of  observation.  While  interesting  to  the 
anthropologist,  this  discrepancy  does  not  affect  our  basic  conclusions  regarding  the 
communal  character  of  large-scale  building  in  the  American  Pueblos. 

CHAPTER    2,    D  37 

China,  Ch'in  Shih  Huang-ti,  linked  together  and  elaborated  older 
territorial  structures  to  form  the  longest  unbroken  defense  installa- 
tion ever  made  by  man.29  The  periodic  reconstruction  of  the  Chinese 
Great  Wall  expresses  the  continued  effectiveness  of  hydraulic  econ- 
omy and  government-directed  mass  labor. 

b.  Roads 

The  existence  of  government-made  highways  is  suggested  for  the 
Babylonian  period;  30  it  is  documented  for  Assyria.31  And  the  rela- 
tionship between  these  early  constructions  and  the  roads  of  Persia, 
the  Hellenistic  states,  and  Rome  seems  "beyond  doubt."  ;  The  great 
Persian  "royal  road"  deeply  impressed  the  contemporary  Greeks;  32 
it  served  as  a  model  for  the  Hellenistic  rulers,33  whose  efforts  in 
turn  inspired  the  official  road  builders  of  the  Roman  empire.34  Ac- 
cording to  Mez,  the  Arabs  inherited  "the  type  of  'governmental  road,' 
like  its  name,  from  the  Persian  'Royal  Road.'  "  35  Beyond  this,  how- 
ever, they  showed  little  interest  in  maintaining  good  roads,  probably 
because  they  continued  to  rely  in  the  main  on  camel  caravans  for 
purposes  of  transport.  The  later  Muslim  regimes  of  the  Near  East 
used  highways,  but  they  never  restored  them  to  the  state  of  technical 
perfection  which  characterized  the  pre-Arab  period.38 

Roads  were  a  serious  concern  of  India's  vigorous  Maurya  kings.37 
A  "royal  road"  of  10,000  stadia,  which  is  said  to  have  led  from  the 
capital  to  the  northwestern  border,  had  a  system  of  marking  dis- 
tances which,  in  a  modified  form,  was  again  employed  by  the  Mogul 
emperors.38  In  Southern  India,  where  Hindu  civilization  was  per- 
petuated for  centuries  after  the  north  had  been  conquered,  govern- 
ment-made roads  are  mentioned  in  the  inscriptions;  and  "some  of 
them  are  called  king's  highways."  39  The  Muslim  rulers  of  India 
continued  the  Indian  rather  than  the  West  Asian  pattern  in  their 
effort  to  maintain  a  network  of  state  roads.40  Sher  Shah  (d.  1545) 
built  four  great  roads,  one  of  which  ran  from  Bengal  to  Agra,  Delhi, 
and  Lahore.41  Akbar  is  said  to  have  been  inspired  by  Sher  Shah 
when  he  built  a  new  "king's  highway,"  called  the  Long  Walk,  which 
for  four  hundred  miles  was  "shaded  by  great  trees  on  both  sides."  42 

In  China,  a  gigantic  network  of  highways  was  constructed  im- 
mediately after  the  establishment  of  the  empire  in  221  B.C.  But  in 
this  case,  as  in  the  cases  of  the  irrigation  and  navigation  canals  or 

/.  Meissner,  BA,  I:  341.  The  term  "royal  road"  was  used  in  an  Assyrian  inscription 
(Olmstead,  1923:  334).  The  operational  pattern  of  the  Roman  state  post,  the  cursus 
publicus,  can  be  traced  back  through  the  Hellenistic  period  to  Persia  and  perhaps  even 
to  Babylonia  (Wilcken,  1912:  372  and  n.  2). 



the  long  defense  walls,  the  imperial  engineers  systematized  and 
elaborated  only  what  their  territorial  predecessors  had  initiated.  Long 
before  the  3d  century  b.c.  an  efficient  territorial  state  was  expected 
to  have  well  kept  overland  highways,  supervised  by  central  and 
local  officials,  lined  with  trees,  and  provided  with  stations  and  guest 
houses.43  Under  the  empire,  great  state  roads  connected  all  the  im- 
portant centers  of  the  northern  core  area  with  the  capital.  Accord- 
ing to  the  official  History  of  the  Han  Dynasty,  the  First  Emperor 

built  the  Imperial  Road  throughout  the  empire.  To  the  east  it 
stretched  to  Yen  and  Ch'i  and  to  the  south  it  reached  Wu  and 
Gh'u.  The  banks  and  the  shore  of  the  Chiang  [the  Yangtze 
River]  and  the  lakes  and  the  littoral  along  the  sea  coast  were 
all  made  accessible.  The  highway  was  fifty  paces  wide.  A  space 
three  chang  [approximately  twenty-two  feet]  wide  in  the  center 
was  set  apart  by  trees.  The  two  sides  were  firmly  built,  and 
metal  bars  were  used  to  reinforce  them.  Green  pine  trees  were 
planted  along  it.  He  constructed  the  Imperial  Highway  with 
such  a  degree  of  elegance  that  later  generations  were  even  unable 
to  find  a  crooked  path  upon  which  to  place  their  feet,44 

In  the  subsequent  dynasties  the  building  and  maintenance  of  the 
great  trunk  roads  and  their  many  regional  branches  remained  a 
standard  task  of  China's  central  and  local  administration. 

The  rugged  terrain  of  Meso-America  and  the  absence  of  fully 
coordinated  empires  seems  to  have  discouraged  the  construction  of 
highways  during  the  pre-Columbian  period,  at  least  on  the  high 
plateau.  But  the  Andean  area  was  the  scene  of  extraordinary  road 
building.  The  Spanish  conquerors  described  in  detail  the  fine  high- 
ways which  crossed  both  the  coastal  plain  and  the  highlands  and 
which  formed  connecting  links  between  them.45  Commenting  on  the 
Andean  roads,  Hernando  Pizarro  writes  he  never  saw  their  like  in 
similar  terrain  "within  the  entire  Christian  world."  46  In  fact  the 
only  parallel  he  could  think  of  was  the  system  of  highways  built  by 
the  Romans.  The  similarity  is  telling.  As  we  shall  discuss  below,  the 
extensive  Roman  roads  were  the  fruits  of  a  fateful  transformation 
that  made  the  Roman  Empire  a  Hellenistically  (Orientally)  despotic 

The  efforts  required  to  build  all  these  great  highways  have  at- 
tracted much  less  attention  than  the  finished  products.  But  what 
evidence  we  have  indicates  that  like  most  other  major  government 
enterprises,  they  were  mainly  executed  through  the  cooperative  effort 
of  state-levied  corvee  laborers.  Under  the  Inca  empire  supervisory 

CHAPTER    2,    D  39 

officials  marked  off  the  land  and  informed  the  local  inhabitants  "that 
they  should  make  these  roads."  And  this  was  done  with  little  cost 
to  the  government.  The  commandeered  men  "come  with  their  food 
and  tools  to  make  them."  " 

The  highways  of  imperial  China  required  an  enormous  labor 
force  for  their  construction  and  a  very  sizable  one  for  their  mainte- 
nance. A  Han  inscription  notes  that  the  construction  of  a  certain 
highway  in  the  years  a.d.  63-66  occupied  766,800  men.  Of  this  great 
number  only  2,690  were  convicts.*7 

c.  Palaces,  Capital  Cities,  and  Tombs 

A  governmental  apparatus  capable  of  executing  all  these  hydrau- 
lic and  nonhydraulic  works  could  easily  be  used  in  building  palaces 
and  pleasure  grounds  for  the  ruler  and  his  court,  palace-like  govern- 
ment edifices  for  his  aides,  and  monuments  and  tombs  for  the  dis- 
tinguished dead.  It  could  be  used  wherever  the  equalitarian  condi- 
tions of  a  primitive  tribal  society  yielded  to  tribal  or  no-longer 
tribal  forms  of  autocracy. 

The  head  chief  of  a  Pueblo  community  had  his  fields  worked  for 
him  by  the  villagers.  But  apparently  his  dwelling  did  not  differ 
from  the  houses  of  other  tribesmen,  except  perhaps  that  it  was 
better  and  more  securely  located.  The  Chagga  chieftains  had  veri- 
table palaces  erected  for  their  personal  use;  and  the  corvee  labor  in- 
volved in  their  construction  was  substantial.48 

The  colossal  palaces  of  the  rulers  of  ancient  Peru  were  erected  by 
the  integrated  manpower  of  many  laborers.  In  pre-Columbian 
Mexico,  Nezahualcoyotzin,  the  king  of  Tezcuco,  the  second  largest 
country  in  the  Aztec  Federation,  is  said  to  have  employed  more  than 
200,000  workers  each  day  for  the  building  of  his  magnificent  palace 
and  park.49 

Unlimited  control  over  the  labor  power  of  their  subjects  enabled 
the  rulers  of  Sumer,  Babylon,  and  Egypt  to  build  their  spectacular 
palaces,  gardens,  and  tombs.  The  same  work  pattern  prevailed  in 
the  many  smaller  states  that  shaped  their  government  on  the  Meso- 
potamian  or  Egyptian  model.  According  to  the  biblical  records, 
King  Solomon  built  his  beautiful  temple  with  labor  teams  that,  like 
those  of  Babylonia,  were  kept  at  work  for  four  months  of  the  year. 


g.  Cieza,  1943:  95.  The  regional  organization  and  the  repair  work  on  the  roads  had 
already  been  noted  by  a  member  of  the  conquering  army  (Estete,  1938:  246).  The 
lack  of  payment  for  services  rendered  in  the  road  corvee  is  also  recorded  by  Bias 
Valeras,  who  states  that  similar  conditions  prevailed  with  regard  to  work  on  the 
bridges  and  irrigation  canals  (Garcilaso,  1945,  I:  258). 


The  great  edifices  of  Mogul  India  have  been  frequently  described. 
Less  known  but  equally  worthy  of  mention  are  the  constructions  of 
the  earlier  periods.  The  third  ruler  of  the  Tughluq,  Firus  Shah  (ca. 
1308-88),  dug  several  important  irrigation  canals,  the  famous  "Old 
Jumna  Canal"  among  them.  He  built  forts,  palaces,  and  palace-cities, 
mosques,  and  tombs.  The  palace-fort  of  Kotla  Firus  Shah,  which  rose 
in  his  new  capital  of  FIrusabad  (Delhi),  faithfully  preserved  the 
grand  style  of  pre-Islamic  Indian  and  Eastern  architecture.51 

The  Chinese  variant  of  the  general  agromanagerial  building  trend 
is  revealed  in  many  elaborate  works.  The  First  Emperor  of  China, 
Ch'in  Shih  Huang-ti,  began  to  build  great  hydraulic  works  in  the 
early  days  of  his  power;  and  in  the  course  of  his  reign  he  completed 
colossal  works  of  the  nonhydraulic  public  and  semiprivate  types. 
Having  destroyed  all  his  territorial  rivals,  he  constructed  the  previ- 
ously mentioned  network  of  highways  which  gave  his  officials, 
messengers,  and  troops  easy  access  to  all  regions  of  his  far-flung 
empire.  Later  he  defended  himself  against  the  northern  pastoralists 
by  consolidating  the  Great  Wall.  Palaces  for  his  personal  use  had 
been  built  in  the  early  days  of  his  reign;  but  it  was  only  in  213  b.c. 
that  work  was  begun  on  his  superpalace.  This  monster  project,  to- 
gether with  the  construction  of  his  enormous  tomb,52  is  said  to  have 
occupied  work  teams  numbering  over  700,000  persons.53 

Eight  hundred  years  later  the  second  monarch  of  a  reunified 
China,  Emperor  Yang  (604-17)  of  the  Sui  Dynasty,  mobilized  a  still 
larger  labor  force  for  the  execution  of  similar  monster  enterprises. 
In  addition  to  the  more  than  one  million  persons — men  and  women 
— levied  for  the  making  of  the  Grand  Canal,54  he  dispatched  huge 
corvee  teams  to  extend  the  imperial  roads 55  and  to  work  on  the 
Great  Wall.  According  to  the  History  of  the  Sui  Dynasty,  over  a 
million  persons  toiled  at  the  Great  Wall.*  According  to  the  same 
official  source,  the  construction  of  the  new  eastern  capital,  which 
included  a  gigantic  new  imperial  palace,  involved  no  less  than  two 
million  people  "every  month."  " 

d.  Temples 

The  position,  fate,  and  prestige  of  the  secular  masters  of  hydraulic 
society  were  closely  interlinked  with  that  of  their  divine  protectors. 
Without  exception,  the  political  rulers  were  eager  to  confirm  and 
bulwark  their  own  legitimacy  and  majesty  by  underlining  the  great- 
ness of  their  supernatural  supporters.  Whether  the  government  was 

h.  Over  a  million  in  607;  an  additional   200,000  persons  were  employed   in   608 
(Sui  Shu  3.  10b,  12a). 

CHAPTER    2,    D  41 

headed  by  secular  monarchs  or  priest-kings,  the  commanding  center 
made  every  effort  to  provide  the  supreme  gods  and  their  earthly 
functionaries  with  adequate  surroundings  for  worship  and  residence. 

Government-directed  work  teams,  which  erected  gigantic  palaces, 
were  equally  fitted  to  erect  gigantic  temples.  Ancient  inscriptions 
note  the  many  temples  built  by  the  Mesopotamian  rulers.57  Usually 
the  sovereign  speaks  as  if  these  achievements  resulted  solely  from  his 
personal  efforts.  But  occasional  remarks  indicate  the  presence  of  "the 
people"  who  toiled  "according  to  the  established  plan."  *  Similarly, 
most  Pharaonic  texts  refer  to  the  final  achievement s  or  to  the  great- 
ness of  the  directing  sovereign;  88  but  again  a  number  of  texts  refer 
to  the  government-led  labor  forces,  "the  people."  * 

In  the  agromanagerial  cultures  of  pre-Columbian  America,  build- 
ings for  religious  purposes  were  particularly  conspicuous.  Native 
tradition  as  well  as  the  early  Spanish  accounts  emphasize  the  tremen- 
dous labor  required  to  construct  and  maintain  the  sacred  houses 
and  pyramids.  The  Mexicans  coordinated  their  communal  energies 
to  erect  the  first  temple  for  the  newly  established  island  city,  the  later 
Aztec  capital;  59  and  their  increasingly  powerful  descendants  mobi- 
lized the  manpower  of  many  subjugated  countries  for  the  construc- 
tion of  increasingly  huge  temples."1  The  city-like  palace  of  the  famous 
King  of  Tezcuco,  Nezahualcoyotzin,  contained  no  less  than  forty 
temples.00  The  great  number  of  laborers  engaged  in  building  this 
palace-  and  temple-city  has  already  been  cited.  Like  the  monster 
work  teams  of  Mexico,  those  of  Tezcuco  could  draw  upon  the  entire 
corviable  population."  In  another  country  of  the  main  lake  region, 
Cuauhtitlan,  the  construction  of  large-scale  hydraulic  works  61  was 
followed  by  the  building  of  a  great  temple.  It  took  thirteen  years  to 
complete  the  second  task.62 

In  the  Andean  zone,  as  in  most  other  areas  of  the  hydraulic  world, 
the  attachment  of  the  priesthood  to  the  government  is  beyond  doubt. 
The  Incas  made  heavy  levies  on  their  empire's  material  wealth  in 

i.  Price,  1927:  24;  cf.  Thureau-Dangin,  1907:  111,  and  Barton,  1929:  225.  Schneider 
(1920:  46)  and  Deimel  (1931:  101  ff.)  deplore  the  scarcity  of  concrete  data  concerning 
the  Sumerian  construction  industry. 

;'.  Thus  in  one  of  the  oldest  inscriptions  of  Egypt  extant,  the  Palermo  Stone 
(Breasted,  1927,  I:  64). 

k.  "I  have  commanded  those  who  work,  to  do  according  as  thou  shalt  exact" 
(Breasted,  1927,  I:  245).  The  "people"  bring  the  stone  for  the  Amon  Temple;  and 
the  "people"  also  do  the  building.  Among  the  workmen  are  several  types  of  artisans 
(ibid.,  II:  294,  293). 

m.  Tezozomoc,  1944:  79  (the  Temple  of  Huitzilopochtli)  and  157  (the  great  Cu 
edifice  of  the  same  god). 

n.  Ixtlilxochitl,  OH,  II:  173  ff.  The  Annals  of  Cuauhtitlan  also  refer  to  this  construc- 
tion (Chimalpopoca,  1945:  52),  without,  however,  discussing  the  labor  aspect. 


order  to  beautify  their  temples  and  pyramids.63  They  called  up  what- 
ever manpower  was  needed  to  collect  the  raw  material,  transport  it, 
and  do  the  actual  work  of  construction.64 


Evidently  the  masters  of  hydraulic  society,  whether  they  ruled  in 
the  Near  East,  India,  China,  or  pre-Conquest  America,  were  great 
builders.  The  formula  is  usually  invoked  for  both  the  aesthetic  and 
the  technical  aspect  of  the  matter;  and  these  two  aspects  are  indeed 
closely  interrelated.  We  shall  briefly  discuss  both  of  them  with  regard 
to  the  following  types  of  hydraulic  and  nonhydraulic  construction 

I.  Hydraulic  works 

A.  Productive  installations 

(Canals,  aqueducts,  reservoirs,  sluices,  and  dikes  for  the  pur- 
pose of  irrigation) 

B.  Protective  installations 

(Drainage  canals  and  dikes  for  flood  control) 

C.  Aqueducts  providing  drinking  water 

D.  Navigation  canals 

II.  Nonhydraulic  works 

A.  Works  of  defense  and  communication 

1 .  Walls  and  other  structures  of  defense 

2.  Highways 

B.  Edifices  serving  the  public  and  personal  needs  of  the  secular 
and  religious  masters  of  hydraulic  society 

i.  Palaces  and  capital  cities 

2.  Tombs 

3.  Temples 

1.  The  Aesthetic  Aspect 

a.  Uneven  Conspicuousness 

The  majority  of  persons  who  have  commented  on  the  great  builders 
of  Asia  and  ancient  America  are  far  more  articulate  on  the  non- 
hydraulic than  on  the  hydraulic  achievements.  Within  the  hydraulic 
sphere  more  attention  is  again  given  to  the  aqueducts  for  drinking 
water  and  the  navigation  canals  than  to  the  productive  and  protec- 
tive installations  of  hydraulic  agriculture.  In  fact,  these  last  are  fre- 

CHAPTER    2,    E  43 

quently  overlooked  altogether.  Among  the  nonhydraulic  works,  the 
"big  houses"  of  power  and  worship  and  the  tombs  of  the  great  are 
much  more  carefully  investigated  than  are  the  large  installations  of 
communication  and  defense. 

This  uneven  treatment  of  the  monster  constructions  of  hydraulic 
society  is  no  accident.  For  functional,  aesthetic,  and  social  reasons  the 
hydraulic  works  are  usually  less  impressive  than  the  nonhydraulic 
constructions.  And  similar  reasons  encourage  uneven  treatment  also 
within  each  of  the  two  main  categories. 

Functionally  speaking,  irrigation  canals  and  protective  embank- 
ments are  widely  and  monotonously  spread  over  the  landscape, 
whereas  the  palaces,  tombs,  and  temples  are  spatially  concentrated. 
Aesthetically  speaking,  most  of  the  hydraulic  works  are  undertaken 
primarily  for  utilitarian  purposes,  whereas  the  residences  of  the  rulers 
and  priests,  the  houses  of  worship,  and  the  tombs  of  the  great  are 
meant  to  be  beautiful.  Socially  speaking,  those  who  organize  the 
distribution  of  manpower  and  material  are  the  same  persons  who 
particularly  and  directly  enjoy  the  benefits  of  many  nonhydraulic 
structures.  In  consequence  they  are  eager  to  invest  a  maximum  of 
aesthetic  effort  in  these  structures  (palaces,  temples,  and  capital 
cities)  and  a  minimum  of  such  effort  in  all  other  works. 

Of  course,  the  contrast  is  not  absolute.  Some  irrigation  works, 
dikes,  aqueducts,  navigation  canals,  highways,  and  defense  walls  do 
achieve  considerable  functional  beauty.  And  closeness  to  the  centers 
of  power  may  lead  the  officials  in  charge  to  construct  embankments, 
aqueducts,  highways,  bridges,  walls,  gates,  and  towers  with  as  much 
care  for  aesthetic  detail  as  material  and  labor  permit. 

But  these  secondary  tendencies  do  not  alter  the  two  basic  facts 
that  the  majority  of  all  hydraulic  and  nonhydraulic  public  works 
are  aesthetically  less  conspicuous  than  the  royal  and  official  palaces, 
temples,  and  tombs,  and  that  the  most  important  of  all  hydraulic 
works — the  canals  and  dikes — from  the  standpoint  of  art  and  artistry 
are  the  least  spectacular  of  all. 

b.  The  Monumental  Style 

Such  discrepancies  notwithstanding,  the  palaces,  government  build- 
ings, temples,  and  tombs  share  one  feature  with  the  "public"  works 
proper:  they,  too,  tend  to  be  large.  The  architectural  style  of  hydraulic 
society  is  monumental. 

This  style  is  apparent  in  the  fortress-like  settlements  of  the  Pueblo 
Indians.  It  is  conspicuous  in  the  palaces,  temple  cities,  and  fortresses 
of  ancient  Middle  and  South  America.  It  characterizes  the  tombs, 


palace-cities,  temples,  and  royal  monuments  of  Pharaonic  Egypt  and 
ancient  Mesopotamia.  No  one  who  has  ever  observed  the  city  gates 
and  walls  of  a  Chinese  capital,  such  as  Peking,  or  who  has  walked 
through  the  immense  palace  gates  and  squares  of  the  Forbidden  City 
to  enter  its  equally  immense  court  buildings,  ancestral  temples,  and 
private  residences  can  fail  to  be  awed  by  their  monumental  design. 
Pyramids  and  dome-shaped  tombs  manifest  most  consistently  the 
monumental  style  of  hydraulic  building.  They  achieve  their  aesthetic 
effect  with  a  minimum  of  ideas  and  a  maximum  of  material.  The 
pyramid  is  little  more  than  a  huge  pile  of  symmetrically  arranged 

The  property-based  and  increasingly  individualistic  society  of  an- 
cient Greece  loosened  up  the  massive  architecture,  which  had 
emerged  in  the  quasihydraulic  Mycenaean  period.1  During  the  later 
part  of  the  first  millennium  B.C.,  when  Alexander  and  his  successors 
ruled  the  entire  Near  East,  the  architectural  concepts  of  Hellas  trans- 
formed and  refined  the  hydraulic  style  without,  however,  destroying 
its  monumental  quality. 

In  Islamic  architecture  the  two  styles  blended  to  create  a  third. 
The  products  of  this  development  were  as  spectacular  in  the  western- 
most outpost  of  Islamic  culture — Moorish  Spain — as  they  were  in  the 
great  eastern  centers:  Cairo,  Baghdad,  Bukhara,  Samarkand,  and  Is- 
tanbul. The  Taj  Mahal  of  Agra  and  kindred  buildings  show  the  same 
forces  at  work  in  India,  a  subcontinent  which,  before  the  Islamic  in- 
vasion, had  evolved  a  rich  monumental  architecture  of  its  own. 

c.  The  Institutional  Meaning 

It  hardly  needs  to  be  said  that  other  agrarian  civilizations  also  com- 
bined architectural  beauty  with  magnitude.  But  the  hydraulic  rulers 
differed  from  the  secular  and  priestly  lords  of  the  ancient  and  me- 
dieval West,  first  because  their  constructional  operations  penetrated 
more  spheres  of  life,  and  second  because  control  over  the  entire 
country's  labor  power  and  material  enabled  them  to  attain  much 
more  monumental  results. 

The  scattered  operations  of  rainfall  farming  did  not  involve  the 
establishment  of  national  patterns  of  cooperation,  as  did  hydraulic 
agriculture.  The  many  manorial  centers  of  Europe's  knighthood  so- 
ciety gave  rise  to  as  many  fortified  residences  (castles);  and  their  size 
was  limited  by  the  number  of  the  attached  serfs.  The  king,  being 
little  more  than  the  most  important  feudal  lord,  had  to  build  his 
castles  with  whatever  labor  force  his  personal  domain  provided. 

The  concentration  of  revenue  in  the  regional  or  territorial  centers 

CHAPTER    2,    F  45 

of  ecclesiastical  authority  permitted  the  creation  of  the  largest  in- 
dividual medieval  edifices:  churches,  abbeys,  and  cathedrals.  It  may 
be  noted  that  these  buildings  were  erected  by  an  institution  which, 
in  contrast  to  all  other  prominent  Western  bodies,  combined  feudal 
with  quasihydraulic  patterns  of  organization  and  acquisition. 

With  regard  to  social  control  and  natural  resources,  however,  the 
master  builders  of  the  hydraulic  state  had  no  equal  in  the  non- 
hydraulic  world.  The  modest  Tower  of  London  and  the  dispersed 
castles  of  Medieval  Europe  express  the  balanced  baronial  society  of 
the  Magna  Carta  as  clearly  as  the  huge  administrative  cities  and 
colossal  palaces,  temples,  and  tombs  of  Asia,  Egypt,  and  ancient 
America  express  the  organizational  coordination  and  the  mobiliza- 
tion potential  of  hydraulic  economy  and  statecraft.0 


1.  A  Comparative  View 

A  government  capable  of  handling  all  major  hydraulic  and  non- 
hydraulic  construction  may,  if  it  desires,  play  a  leading  role  also  in 
the  nonconstructional  branches  of  industry.  There  are  "feeding"  in- 
dustries, such  as  mining,  quarrying,  salt  gathering,  etc.;  and  there  are 
finishing  industries,  such  as  the  manufacture  of  weapons,  textiles, 
chariots,  furniture,  etc.  Insofar  as  the  activities  in  these  two  spheres 
proceeded  on  a  large  scale,  they  were  for  the  most  part  either  directly 
managed  or  monopolistically  controlled  by  the  hydraulic  govern- 
ments. Under  the  conditions  of  Pharaonic  Egypt  and  Inca  Peru,  di- 
rect management  prevailed.  Under  more  differentiated  social  con- 
ditions, the  government  tended  to  leave  part  of  mining,  salt  gather- 
ing, etc.  to  heavily  taxed  and  carefully  supervised  entrepreneurs, 
while  it  continued  to  manage  directly  most  of  the  large  manufactur- 
ing workshops. 

By  combining  these  facts  with  what  we  know  of  the  hydraulic  and 
nonhydraulic  constructional  operations  of  the  state,  we  may  in  the 
following  table  indicate  the  managerial  position  of  the  hydraulic 
state  both  in  agriculture  and  industry.  For  purposes  of  comparison, 
we  include  corresponding  data  from  two  other  agrarian  societies  and 
from  mercantilist  Europe. 

a.  For  another  peculiarity  of  hydraulic  architecture,  the  "introvert"  character  of 
most  of  the  residential  buildings,  with  the  exception  of  those  of  the  ruler,  see  below, 
p.  86,  n.  b. 


Table  1.  Government  Management  in  the  Spheres  of  Agriculture  and  Industry 








Waterworks  Farming 

Mining,  etc. 




Hydraulic  society 






Coastal  city  states  of 
classical  Greece 

—                                  _ 

, — . 

Medieval  Europe 






Mercantilist  Europe 

—                 — 






-f-  Predominant 
+  Outstandingly  significant 

—  Irrelevant  or  absent 

1.  Simp! 

2.  On  a 
$.  On  a 

er  conditions, 
national  scale, 
manorial  scale. 

(    )  Trend  limited  or  modified  by  factors  indicated  in  the  text 

In  ancient  Greece,  mining  was  mainly  in  the  hands  o£  licensed 
businessmen.  As  long  as  the  concessionaire  delivered  a  fixed  part  of 
his  output  to  the  state,  he  enjoyed  "very  extensive"  rights;  he  "was 
said  to  'buy'  the  mine,  he  organized  the  working  as  he  pleased,  the 
ore  was  his,  and  he  could  cede  his  concession  to  a  third  party."  x  In 
Medieval  Europe  mining  was  also  essentially  left  to  private  entre- 
preneurs, who,  having  obtained  a  concession  from  the  royal  or  ter- 
ritorial authorities,  proceeded  independently  and  mostly  through 
craft  cooperatives.2  The  mercantilist  governments  of  Europe  operated 
some  mines  directly;  but  the  majority  was  managed  by  strictly  super- 
vised private  owners.3 

All  these  arrangements  differ  profoundly  from  the  system  of  gov- 
ernment mining  prevailing  in  Pharaonic  Egypt  and  Inca  Peru.  Mer- 
cantilist usage  resembles  in  form,  but  not  in  institutional  substance, 
the  policy  pursued  in  certain  of  the  more  differentiated  hydraulic 
societies,  where  government  operation  of  some  mines  was  combined 
with  private,  but  government-licensed,  handling  of  others.4 

Except  for  mining,  Oriental  and  Occidental  absolutism  are  less 
similar  in  the  industrial  sphere  than  has  been  claimed,  whereas  a 
resemblance  of  sorts  does  exist  between  hydraulic  society  and  feudal 
Europe.  In  hydraulic  society,  the  majority  of  the  not-too-many  larger 
industrial  workshops  was  government  managed.  In  the  mercantilist 
Occident  they  were,  under  varying  forms  of  state  supervision,  pre- 
dominantly owned  and  run  by  private  entrepreneurs.  In  the  coastal 
city-states  of  classical  Greece  the  government  was  neither  equipped 
nor  inclined  to  engage  in  industrial  activities.  The  rulers  of  Medieval 
Europe,  faced  with  a  different  situation,  proceeded  differently.  In 

CHAPTER    2,    F  47 

their  manorial  workshops  they  employed  a  number  of  serf -artisans, 
who  were  kept  busy  satisfying  the  needs  of  their  masters.  The  feudal 
lords  also  summoned  serf  labor  for  the  construction  of  "big  houses" 
— castles.  The  similarity  between  this  manorial  system  of  cooperative 
work  and  the  hydraulic  pattern  is  evident.  But  again  the  functional 
similarity  is  limited  by  the  differences  in  the  societal  setting.  The 
medieval  kings  and  barons  could  dispose  only  over  the  labor  force 
of  their  own  domains  and  estates,  while  the  hydraulic  rulers  could 
draw  on  the  unskilled  and  skilled  labor  of  large  territories,  and  ulti- 
mately on  that  of  the  whole  country. 

The  decisive  difference,  however,  between  hydraulic  society  and 
the  three  civilizations  with  which  we  compare  it  lies,  insofar  as  in- 
dustry is  concerned,  in  the  sphere  of  construction.  It  is  this  sphere 
which  more  than  any  other  sector  of  industry  demonstrates  the  or- 
ganizational power  of  hydraulic  society.  And  it  is  this  sphere  which 
achieved  results  never  attained  by  any  other  agrarian  or  mercantilist 

The  full  institutional  significance  of  this  fact  becomes  apparent  as 
soon  as  we  connect  it  with  the  corresponding  agrarian  development. 
Government-managed  heavy  water  works  place  the  large-scale  feeding 
apparatus  of  agriculture  in  the  hands  of  the  state.  Government- 
managed  construction  works  make  the  state  the  undisputed  master  of 
the  most  comprehensive  sector  of  large-scale  industry.  In  the  two 
main  spheres  of  production  the  state  occupied  an  unrivaled  position 
of  operational  leadership  and  organizational  control. 

2.  The  Power  of  the  Hydraulic  State  over  Labor 
Greater  than  That  of  Capitalist  Enterprises 

In  both  spheres  the  hydraulic  state  levied  and  controlled  the  needed 
labor  forces  by  coercive  methods  that  were  invocable  by  a  feudal 
lord  only  within  a  restricted  area,  and  that  were  altogether  different 
from  the  methods  customary  under  capitalist  conditions.  The  hydrau- 
lic rulers  were  sufficiently  strong  to  do  on  a  national  scale  what  a 
feudal  sovereign  or  lord  could  accomplish  only  within  the  borders 
of  his  domain.  They  compelled  able-bodied  commoners  to  work  for 
them  through  the  agency  of  the  corvee. 

Corvee  labor  is  forced  labor.  But  unlike  slave  labor,  which  is  de- 
manded permanently,  corvee  labor  is  conscripted  on  a  temporary,  al- 
though recurring,  basis.  After  the  corvee  service  is  completed,  the 
worker  is  expected  to  go  home  and  continue  with  his  own  business. 

Thus  the  corvee  laborer  is  freer  than  the  slave.  But  he  is  less  free 
than  a  wage  laborer.  He  does  not  enjoy  the  bargaining  advantages 


of  the  labor  market,  and  this  is  the  case  even  if  the  state  gives  him 
food  (in  the  ancient  Near  East  often  "bread  and  beer")  or  some 
cash.  In  areas  with  a  highly  developed  money  economy  the  hydraulic 
government  may  levy  a  corvee  tax  and  hire  rather  than  conscript 
the  needed  labor.  This  was  done  largely  in  China  at  the  close  of 
the  Ming  dynasty  and  during  the  greater  part  of  Ch'ing  rule. 

But  there  as  elsewhere  the  government  arbitrarily  fixed  the  wage. 
And  it  always  kept  the  workers  under  quasimilitary  discipline.5  Ex- 
cept in  times  of  open  political^erisis,  the  hydraulic  state  could  always 
muster  the  labor  forces  it  required;  and  this  whether  the  workers 
were  levied  or  hired.  It  has  been  said  that  the  Mogul  ruler  Akbar, 
"by  his  firman  (order)  could  collect  any  number  of  men  he  liked. 
There  was  no  limit  to  his  massing  of  labourers,  save  the  number  of 
people  in  his  Empire."  6  Mutatis  mutandis,  this  statement  is  valid  for 
all  hydraulic  civilizations. 


Thus  the  hydraulic  state  fulfilled  a  variety  of  important  managerial 
functions.0  In  most  instances  it  maintained  crucial  hydraulic  works, 
appearing  in  the  agrarian  sphere  as  the  sole  operator  of  large  prepara- 
tory and  protective  enterprises.  And  usually  it  also  controlled  the 
major  nonhydraulic  industrial  enterprises,  especially  large  construc- 
tions. This  was  the  case  even  in  certain  "marginal"  areas,1  where  the 
hydraulic  works  were  insignificant. 

The  hydraulic  state  differs  from  the  modern  total  managerial  states 
in  that  it  is  based  on  agriculture  and  operates  only  part  of  the  country's 
economy.  It  differs  from  the  laissez-faire  states  of  a  private-property- 
based  industrial  society  in  that,  in  its  core  form,  it  fulfills  crucial 
economic  functions  by  means  of  commandeered  (forced)  labor. 

a.  Social  science  is  indebted  to  James  Burnham  for  pointing  to  the  power  potential 
inherent  in  managerial  control.  The  present  inquiry  stresses  the  importance  of  the 
general  (political)  organizer  as  compared  not  only  to  the  technical  specialist  (see  Veblen, 
1945:  441  ff.),  but  also  to  the  economic  manager.  This,  however,  does  not  diminish  the 
author's  appreciation  of  the  contribution  made  by  Burnham  through  his  concept  of 
managerial  leadership. 


state  stronger  than  society 


The  hydraulic  state  is  a  genuinely  managerial  state.  This  fact  has 
far-reaching  societal  implications.  As  manager  of  hydraulic  and  other 
mammoth  constructions,  the  hydraulic  state  prevents  the  nongovern- 
mental forces  of  society  from  crystallizing  into  independent  bodies 
strong  enough  to  counterbalance  and  control  the  political  machine. 

The  relations  between  the  governmental  and  nongovernmental 
forces  of  society  are  as  manifold  as  the  patterns  of  society  itself.  All 
governments  are  concerned  with  the  protection  of  the  commonwealth 
against  external  enemies  (through  the  organization  of  military  action) 
and  with  the  maintenance  of  internal  order  (through  jurisdiction  and 
policing  methods  of  one  kind  or  another).  The  extent  to  which  a 
government  executes  these  and  other  tasks  depends  on  the  way  in 
which  the  societal  order  encourages,  or  restricts,  governmental  activ- 
ities on  the  one  hand  and  the  development  of  rival  nongovernmental 
forces  on  the  other. 

The  nongovernmental  forces  aiming  at  social  and  political  leader- 
ship include  kin  groups  (particularly  under  primitive  conditions); 
representatives  of  autonomous  religious  organizations  (customary  in 
certain  primitive  civilizations  but,  as  the  history  of  the  Christian 
Church  shows,  by  no  means  confined  to  them);  independent  or  semi- 
independent  leaders  of  military  groups  (such  as  tribal  bands,  armies 
of  feudal  lords);  and  owners  of  various  forms  of  property  (such  as 
money,  land,  industrial  equipment,  and  capacity  to  work). 

In  some  cases  the  rise  of  hydraulic  despotism  was  probably  con- 
tested by  the  heads  of  powerful  clans  or  by  religious  groups  eager  to 
preserve  their  traditional  autonomy.  In  others,  semi-independent 
military  leaders  may  have  tried  to  prevent  the  masters  of  the  hydrau- 
lic apparatus  from  attaining  total  control.  But  the  rival  forces  lacked 
the  proprietary  and  organizational  strength  that  in  Greek  and  Roman 
antiquity,  as  well  as  in  Medieval  Europe,  bulwarked  the  nongovern- 
mental forces  of  society.  In  hydraulic  civilizations  the  men  of  the 



government  prevented  the  organizational  consolidation  of  all  non- 
governmental groups.  Their  state  became  "stronger  than  society."  * 
Any  organization  that  gives  its  representatives  unchecked  power  over 
its  subjects  may  be  considered  an  "apparatus."  In  contrast  to  the  con- 
trolled state  of  multicentered  societies,  the  state  of  the  single-centered 
hydraulic  society  was  a  veritable  apparatus  state. 


1.  The  Great  Builders  of  Hydraulic  Society — 
Great  Organizers 

Superior  organizational  power  may  have  different  roots.  In  a  hy- 
draulic setting  the  need  for  comprehensive  organization  is  inherent 
in  the  comprehensive  constructions  necessitated  or  suggested  by  the 
peculiarities  of  the  agrarian  order. 

These  constructions  pose  numerous  technical  problems  and  they 
always  require  large-scale  organization.  To  say  that  the  masters  of 
hydraulic  society  are  great  builders  is  only  another  way  of  saying 
they  are  great  organizers. 

2.  Fundamentals  of  Effective  Organization: 
Counting  and  Record  Keeping 

An  organizer  combines  disparate  elements  into  an  integrated  whole. 
He  may  do  this  ex  tempore  if  his  aim  is  simple  or  passing.  He  must 
make  more  elaborate  preparations  if  he  is  confronted  with  a  perma- 
nent and  difficult  task.  Dealing  with  human  beings — their  labor 
power,  their  military  potential,  and  their  capacity  to  pay  taxes — he 
must  know  their  number  and  condition.  To  this  end  he  must  count 
the  people.  And  whenever  he  expects  to  draw  from  them  frequently 
and  regularly,  he  must  preserve  the  results  of  his  count  either  by 
memorizing  them  or,  above  the  most  primitive  level,  by  utilizing 
preliterary  or  literary  symbols. 

It  is  no  accident  that  among  all  sedentary  peoples  the  pioneers  of 
hydraulic  agriculture  and  statecraft  were  the  first  to  develop  rational 
systems  of  counting  and  writing.  It  is  no  accident  either  that  the 
records  of  hydraulic  society  covered  not  only  the  limited  areas  of 
single  cities  or  city  states,  of  royal  domains  or  feudal  manors,  but  the 
towns  and  villages  of  entire  nations  and  empires.  The  masters  of 
hydraulic  society  were  great  builders  because  they  were  great  organ- 
izers; and  they  were  great  organizers  because  they  were  great  record 

CHAPTER    3,    B  51 

The  colored  and  knotted  strings  (quipus)  by  which  the  Incas  pre- 
served the  results  of  their  frequent  countings  x  show  that  the  lack  of 
a  script  constitutes  no  insurmountable  barrier  to  numbering  and 
registering  the  population.  In  pre-Conquest  Mexico  the  various  forms 
of  land  and  the  obligations  attached  were  carefully  depicted  in  cod- 
ices; and  the  procedures  of  local  administrators  were  apparently 
based  on  these  all-important  documents.2 

In  China  an  elaborate  system  of  writing  and  counting  existed  as 
early  as  the  Yin  (Shang)  dynasty,  that  is,  in  the  second  millennium 
B.C.  Under  the  subsequent  Chou  dynasty  census  lists  were  used  for 
determining  potential  fighters  and  laborers  and  for  estimating  rev- 
enue and  expenditures.  Specific  evidence  testifies  to  a  detailed  system 
of  counting  and  registering  in  the  ruling  state  of  Chou,3  and  we  know 
that  at  the  close  of  the  Chou  period  the  people  were  registered  in  the 
great  northwestern  country  of  Ch'in,4  and  also  in  Ch'i.  In  Ch'i  the 
census  is  said  to  have  been  taken  every  year  in  the  autumn.5  It  was 
in  this  season  that  people  were  also  counted  under  the  first  long-lived 
imperial  dynasty,  Han.6  Preserved  bamboo  records  indicate  that  the 
Han  registers  follow  a  regular  pattern.7  The  two  sets  of  Han  census 
figures  contained  in  the  official  history  of  the  period  8  are  the  most 
comprehensive  population  data  to  come  down  to  us  from  any  major 
contemporary  civilization,  including  the  Roman  Empire. 

The  later  history  of  the  Chinese  census  presents  many  problems 
which  are  far  from  solved.  The  methods  and  the  accuracy  of  proce- 
dures changed  greatly  with  time,  but  the  government's  role  in  the 
handling  of  these  matters  cannot  be  doubted.  In  one  way  or  another, 
the  imperial  bureaucracy  succeeded  in  keeping  track  of  its  human 
and  material  resources. 

The  same  holds  true  for  India.  The  A  rthashastra 9  and  the  Islamic 
sources  10  reveal  the  interest  which  both  native  and  foreign  rulers 
took  in  counting  their  subjects  and  estimating  their  revenues.  And 
this  interest  was  by  no  means  academic.  Megasthenes  found  various 
groups  of  officials  in  the  Maurya  empire  charged  with  such  tasks  as 
measuring  the  fields  and  counting  the  people.11  Numerous  inscrip- 
tions throw  light  on  surveys  made  during  the  last  period  of  Hindu 

After  China,  we  are  probably  best  informed  on  the  Near  Eastern 
development  of  governmental  counting  and  registering.  The  oldest 
deciphered  inscriptions  dealing  with  the  economy  of  a  Mesopotamian 
temple  city  contain  many  numerical  data  on  land,  people,  agricul- 
ture, and  public  services.13  In  Pharaonic  Egypt  the  people  were 
counted  regularly  from  the  time  of  the  Old  Kingdom.14  Documentary 
evidence  for  the  connection  between  the  census  and  fiscal  and  per- 


sonal  obligations  exist  only  for  the  Middle  and  New  Kingdoms,  but 
the  absence  of  still  earlier  data  on  this  point  is  certainly  accidental.15 
On  the  eve  of  the  Hellenistic  period  persons  and  property  seem  to 
have  been  listed  annually;  16  and  the  Ptolemies  probably  perpetuated 
the  ancient  system.  The  papyri  suggest  that  there  were  two  cadasters 
used  for  mutual  checking,  one  in  the  individual  villages  and  one  in 
the  metropolis.17 

Under  the  succeeding  regimes  the  methods  of  counting  people  and 
property,  particularly  land,  underwent  many  modifications;  but  as 
in  India  and  China  the  underlying  principle  continued  to  receive 
recognition.  The  Romans  inherited  the  Hellenistic  pattern  18  and  the 
Arabs  based  their  system  on  that  of  Eastern  Rome.19  The  Mamluks 
upheld  the  time-honored  system  of  record  keeping,20  as  did  the  Otto- 
man Turks,  who  during  the  heyday  of  their  power  insisted  that 
"every  thirty  years  a  census  must  be  taken,  the  dead  and  the  ill  must 
be  separated  off,  and  those  not  on  the  rolls  must  be  newly  re- 
corded." 21 

3.  Organizational  and  Hydraulic  Management 

A  glance  at  the  metropolitan  and  local  centers  of  hydraulic  record 
keeping  recalls  the  original  meaning  of  the  term  "bureau-cracy" : 
"rule  through  bureaus."  The  power  of  the  agromanagerial  regime 
was  indeed  closely  interlinked  with  the  "bureaucratic"  control  which 
the  government  exerted  over  its  subjects. 

a.  The  Organizational  Task  Inherent  in  Large  Constructions, 
Hydraulic  and  Otherwise 

As  stated  above,  enormous  organizational  tasks  are  inherent  in  the 
large  constructions  which  the  agrarian  apparatus  state  accomplishes 
and  which,  particularly  in  their  hydraulic  form,  play  a  decisive  role 
in  crystallizing  the  over-all  conformation.  Having,  in  the  preceding 
chapter,  dealt  at  some  length  with  the  constructional  developments  of 
hydraulic  society,  we  shall  confine  ourselves  here  to  re-emphasizing 
once  more  the  cardinal  importance  of  organization  in  this  field. 

b.  Hydraulic  Management 

The  outstanding  forms  of  hydraulic  management  (as  juxtaposed  to 
construction)  are  the  distribution  of  irrigation  water  and  flood 
watching.  In  general,  these  two  operations  require  much  less  man- 
power than  does  the  work  of  construction  and  repair,  but  those  en- 
gaged in  the  former  must  cooperate  very  precisely. 

CHAPTER    3,    B  53 

Megasthenes  describes  the  care  with  which  officials  of  the  Maurya 
empire  opened  and  closed  the  canals  and  conduits  to  regulate  the  dis- 
tribution of  the  irrigation  water.*  The  highly  systematized  handbook 
of  Chinese  statecraft,  the  Chou  Li,  speaks  of  special  officials  who  con- 
ducted the  irrigation  water  from  the  reservoirs  and  larger  canals  to 
the  smaller  canals  and  ditches.22  Herodotus,  in  a  frequently  quoted 
passage,  tells  how  in  Achaemenian  Persia  the  sovereign  himself  super- 
vised the  major  hydraulic  operations:  "The  king  orders  the  flood- 
gates to  be  opened  toward  the  country  whose  need  is  greatest,  and  lets 
the  soil  drink  until  it  has  had  enough;  after  which  the  gates  on  this 
side  are  shut,  and  others  are  unclosed  for  the  nation  which,  of  the 
remainder,  needs  it  most."  23 

Megasthenes  and  Herodotus  make  it  very  clear  that  the  govern- 
ment was  the  distributing  agent  of  the  irrigation  water;  but  they  do 
not  furnish  organizational  details.  Such  data  are  buried  in  adminis- 
trative manuals  and  regulations  which,  because  of  their  predomi- 
nantly technical  nature,  have  received  little  scholarly  attention. 
Among  the  exceptions  are  some  accounts  of  10th-  and  16th-  (or 
17th-)  century  Persia  and  several  irrigation  codes  discovered  in  Bali. 

The  documents  dealing  with  Persian  conditions  show  the  care  with 
which  the  available  water  was  assigned.  They  indicate  also  the  clock- 
like cooperation  between  the  "water  master"  (mlrab),  his  subordinate 
officials  and  aides,  and  the  village  heads.6  The  Bali  data  familiarize 
us  with  the  workings  of  a  well-integrated  hydraulic  order.  Here  the 
ruler  and  the  minister  of  revenues  (sedahan  agong)  make  the  key 
decisions  as  to  when  and  how  to  flood  the  various  local  hydraulic 
units,  the  subak.24  The  official  head  of  a  cluster  of  such  units  super- 
vises the  supply  for  each  subak;  25  and  the  chief  of  the  local  unit,  the 
klian  subak,  coordinates  the  individual  peasants,  who  swear  a  solemn 
oath  to  submit  to  regulations  while  the  rice  fields,  sawah,  are  being 
flooded.26  "Thus  the  orderly  distribution  of  the  water  among  the 
various  sawah-ho\ders  is  accomplished  with  extreme  care,  and  also 
with  well-based  reasons.  The  sawah-holder  cannot  at  any  time  dis- 
pose over  his  share  of  the  water  supply  where  the  water  is  scarce.  The 

a.  Strabo  15.  1.  50.  Smith,  1914:  132.  Buddha  himself  is  said  to  have  settled  a 
conflict  between  two  city  states  over  their  rights  to  use  the  waters  of  a  nearby  river 
(Jdtakam,  V:  219). 

b.  Lambton,  1948:  589  ff.  Ibid.,  1938:  665  ff.  The  organization  of  the  irrigation  system 
in  East  Persia  at  the  time  of  the  Abbassid  caliphate  is  described  in  Arab  sources. 
The  head  of  the  water  office  in  Merv  had  at  his  disposal  ten  thousand  hands,  and  his 
power  surpassed  that  of  the  district  police  chief.  The  storage  dam  below  the  city 
was  operated  by  four  hundred  guards;  and  the  technique  of  measuring  and  distributing 
the  water  was  minutely  regulated  (Mez,  1922:  423  ff.)-  For  the  institution  of  the  water 
master  in  ancient  and  modern  South  Arabia  see  Grohmann,  1933:  31. 


various  sawah -holders,  even  if  they  belong  to  the  same  subak,  must 
share  the  available  water  and  must  have  their  sawah  flooded  in 
sequence."  27 

The  organizational  operations  involved  in  the  distribution  of  the 
irrigation  water  are  remarkable  for  their  subtlety  and  for  their  cen- 
tralization of  leadership.  Conflicts  are  frequent  between  cultivator 
and  cultivator  and  between  subak  and  subak.  "If  each  sawah-holdev 
could  do  as  he  pleases,  there  would  soon  arise  the  greatest  disorder 
and  the  lower  subak  would  probably  never  get  their  water."  All  these 
problems  are  successfully  resolved  because  essentially  "the  distribu- 
tion of  the  water  as  well  as  the  water  law  lies  in  the  hands  of  a  single 
person."  28 

The  control  of  flood  water  necessitates  greater  organizational  effort 
only  under  special  circumstances.  An  operational  problem  arises 
primarily  where  the  seasonal  overflow  of  an  extended  source  of  water 
threatens  the  irrigation  system  and  the  safety  of  those  depending  on  it. 
In  Bali  the  upper  courses  of  the  river  have  to  be  watched;  and  espe- 
cially assigned  men  fulfill  this  function  as  a  regular  part  of  their 
hydraulic  corvee.28  In  imperial  China,  even  in  times  of  decay,  the 
government  placed  thousands  of  persons  along  their  extended  em- 
bankments in  the  battle  against  potential  floods.30  Between  1 883  and 
1888  the  Egyptian  government  levied  about  one  hundred  thousand 
corviable  persons  annually  to  watch  and  fight  the  flood. 


4.  The  Organization  of  Quick  Locomotion  and 


Under  hydraulic  conditions  of  agriculture,  certain  large  operations 
of  construction  and  management  must  be  organized.  Other  organiza- 
tional activities  are  not  imperative,  but  they  are  made  possible  by  a 
political  economy  which  compels  the  government  to  maintain  centers 
of  direction  and  coordination  in  all  major  regions  of  production. 
Being  able  to  establish  its  authority  not  only  over  a  limited  "royal 
domain"  and  a  number  of  royal  towns — as  does  the  typical  feudal 
state — the  hydraulic  regime  places  its  administrators  and  officers  in 
all  major  settlements,  which  virtually  everywhere  assume  the  char- 
acter of  government-controlled  administrative  and  garrison  towns. 

Effective  governmental  control  involves  first  the  political  and  fiscal 
superiority  of  the  directing  agency  and  second  the  means  for  convey- 
ing commands  and  commanders  to  the  subcenters  of  control.  The 
desire  to  exert  power  through  the  control  of  communications  char- 
acterizes all  political  hierarchies;  but  circumstances  determine  the 
extent  to  which  this  desire  will  be  satisfied.  The  overlord  of  a  feudal 

CHAPTER    3,    B  55 

society  valued  fast  communications  as  much  as  any  Oriental  despot; 
but  the  spotty  distribution  of  his  administrative  centers  and  the  po- 
litically conditioned  lack  of  good  roads  prevented  his  messages  from 
traveling  as  quickly  or  as  safely  as  did  the  messages  of  the  hydraulic 

The  development  of  long  highways  and  navigation  canals  is  only 
another  manifestation  of  the  extraordinary  construction  potential  of 
hydraulic  society.  Similarly  the  development  of  effective  systems  of 
communication  is  only  another  manifestation  of  its  extraordinary 
organizational  potential.  Almost  all  hydraulic  states  bulwarked  their 
power  by  elaborate  systems  of  "postal"  communication  and  intelli- 

The  terms  "post"  or  "postal  service"  express  the  fact  that  persons 
are  "posted"  at  intervals  along  the  road;  the  formula  "relay  system" 
points  to  the  regulated  interaction  between  the  persons  so  posted. 
The  terms  will  be  used  interchangeably  and  with  the  understanding 
that,  within  our  context,  they  refer  to  an  organization  maintained  by 
the  state  for  the  purposes  of  the  state.  On  occasion  the  post  handled 
rare  and  perishable  goods  (fruit  and  fish  for  the  court,  etc.).  But  its 
primary  aim  was  the  movement  of  persons  of  privilege  (envoys, 
officials,  foreign  diplomats),  messengers,  and  messages — these  latter 
including  intelligence  of  the  most  confidential,  important,  and  deli- 
cate nature. 

In  the  decentralized  society  of  Medieval  Europe  individuals  or 
groups  of  individuals  (merchants,  butchers,  towns)  established  over- 
land communications  long  before  the  government  undertook  the 
organization  of  a  systematic  postal  service.32  In  the  hydraulic  world, 
private  communications  were  not  lacking,33  but  they  never  competed 
with  the  far-flung  and  effective  relay  system  of  the  state.  By  running 
the  post  as  a  political  institution,  the  representatives  of  Oriental 
government  maintained  a  monopoly  over  fast  locomotion,  which — 
interlocked  with  an  elaborate  system  of  intelligence — became  a  for- 
midable weapon  of  social  control. 

The  hydraulic  countries  of  ancient  America  present  the  relay 
system  in  a  simple  but  highly  effective  form.  In  the  absence  of  suit- 
able transport  animals,  messages  were  carried  by  runners,  who  in  the 
Mexican  area  proceeded  along  more  or  less  informal  routes  and  in 
the  Andean  area,  along  excellent  state  highways.  The  Mexican  relay 
stations  are  said  to  have  been  set  something  like  two  leagues  (ca. 
6  miles)  apart; 34  and,  according  to  Torquemada,  the  speed  with 
which  messages  could  be  delivered  exceeded  one  hundred  leagues 
(300  miles)  per  day.35  The  stations  along  the  Inca  road  were  closer 
to  each  other,  at  times  no  more  than  three-quarters  of  a  mile  separat- 


ing  them.  The  runners  could  move  at  a  speed  of  one  hundred  and 
fifty  miles  per  day.  According  to  Cobo,  one  message  was  carried  from 
the  coastal  town  of  Lima  to  Cuzco,  the  capital  of  the  altiplano,  over 
approximately  four  hundred  miles  of  difficult  and  often  steep  terrain, 
in  something  like  three  days.  A  hundred  years  after  the  conquest  it 
took  the  Spanish  horse-mail  twelve  to  thirteen  days  to  cover  the  same 
ground.0  While  on  service,  the  runners  had  to  be  fed;  and  this  was 
the  responsibility  of  the  settlements  through  which  the  relay  routes 
passed.36  As  a  matter  of  fact,  in  all  parts  of  the  hydraulic  world  those 
who  lived  along  the  post  roads  were  generally  compelled  to  provision 
the  stations,  furnish  auxiliary  labor,  and  supply  the  draft  and  trans- 
port animals,  carriages,  sedan  chairs  or  boats  demanded  by  the  relay 

The  Incas  are  said  to  have  been  extremely  well  informed  about 
the  remotest  regions  of  their  empire.37  The  far-flung  organization  of 
the  postal  system  of  Achaemenian  Persia  greatly  impressed  Herod- 
otus.38 Private  letters  might  also  be  carried,  but  for  security  reasons 
they  were  read  by  the  postal  officials.39  Xenophon  stressed  the  intelli- 
gence angle.  Through  the  royal  post  the  Achaemenian  kings  were 
able  "to  learn  with  great  celerity  the  state  of  affairs  at  any  distance."  40 

The  technical  peculiarities  of  the  Roman  state  post  have  been  fre- 
quently described.  The  layout  of  its  larger  and  smaller  stations  (man- 
stones  and  mutationes)  and  the  organizational  pattern  of  the  institu- 
tion are  indeed  remarkable.41  But  it  is  important  to  remember  that 
from  the  very  beginning  the  cursus  publicus  was  primarily  aimed  at 
providing  the  imperial  center  with  information.42  By  establishing  the 
post,  Augustus  laid  the  foundations  for  a  comprehensive  intelligence 
system.  Special  officials,  first  called  frumentarii  and  from  Diocletian 
on  agentes  in  rebus,  operated  in  conjunction  with  the  technical  staff. 
Their  activities  enormously  strengthened  the  hold  of  the  autocracy 
over  its  subjects.43 

At  the  beginning  of  the  Byzantine  period  the  postal  system  is  said 
to  have  been  excellent.44  According  to  Procopius,  it  enabled  the  cour- 
iers to  cover  in  one  day  a  distance  otherwise  requiring  ten  days.45 
The  Sassanid  rulers  of  Persia  followed  the  Achaemenian  tradition 
both  in  maintaining  an  effective  postal  service  and  in  using  it  essen- 
tially for  the  purposes  of  the  state.46 

It  is  generally  claimed  that  the  caliphs  shaped  their  postal  system 
after  the  Persian  model.47  This  seems  to  be  true  with  one  important 
qualification.  The  Arabs,  who  carried  with  them  the  tradition  of  the 
steppe  and  the  desert,  moved  on  horseback  or  by  means  of  camel 

c.  Cobo,  HNM,  III:  269;  Rowe,  1946:  231  ff.  According  to  Cieza  (1945:  137),  a  message 
was  carried  this  distance  in  eight  days. 



caravans.  Consequently  they  paid  little  attention  *s  to  the  well-kept 
highways,  which  had  been  the  glory  of  the  Near  Eastern  postal  serv- 
ice until  the  days  of  the  Sassanids.  Otherwise  they  were  indeed  eager 
to  keep  the  state  post  in  good  condition.  In  the  9th  century  the  cali- 
phate is  said  to  have  maintained  over  900  relay  stations.49 

Under  the  caliphs  the  postmaster-general  was  often  at  the  same 
time  the  head  of  the  intelligence  service.50  An  appointment  decree 
of  the  year  a.h.  315  (a.d.  927-28)  states  clearly  that  the  caliph  expected 
the  head  of  the  postal  service  to  observe  in  detail  the  state  of  farming, 
the  condition  of  the  population,  the  behavior  of  the  official  judges, 
the  mint,  and  other  relevant  matters.  The  secret  reports  were  to  deal 
separately  with  the  various  classes  of  functionaries,  judges,  police  of- 
ficials, persons  in  charge  of  the  taxes,  etc.51  The  directives  imply  elab- 
orate methods  of  gathering  and  tabulating  information. 

The  Fatimids  perpetuated  the  postal  tradition  of  their  Arab  pred- 
ecessors; 62  and  the  Mamluks  were  at  least  as  eager  to  maintain  the 
state  post,  which  during  the  period  of  their  prosperity  connected  the 
Egyptian  metropolis  with  the  various  regions  of  Syria.53  Qalqashandi 
notes  the  connection  between  the  regular  postal  system  and  the  or- 
ganization of  intelligence  and  espionage.  Government  offices  dealing 
with  these  matters  were  under  the  same  ministry,  the  Diwan  of  Cor- 
respondence.54 The  dispatch-bearers  of  the  Ottoman  government 
carried  the  regime's  political  and  administrative  correspondence 
"through  the  length  and  breadth  of  the  Ottoman  Empire."  55 

Megasthenes  mentions  the  activities  of  intelligence  officials  in 
Maurya  India;  S6  and  the  Arthashastra  and  the  Book  of  Manu  discuss 
in  some  detail  the  methods  to  be  employed  by  spies.57  The  relation 
between  the  government-maintained  courier  system  and  secret  intel- 
ligence becomes  clearly  apparent  in  texts  dealing  with  the  Gupta 
period  (3d-8th  century  a.d.);  58  and  it  can  also  be  documented  for 
the  Muslim  period.59  In  Mogul  times  local  intelligence  was  bureau- 
cratically  organized  under  an  official  designated  as  kotwdl.00  It  seems 
legitimate  to  assume  that  the  national  intelligence  service  was  inter- 
linked with  the  road  system,  whose  public  inns  (sarais)  and  other 
conveniences  were  organized  "in  accordance  with  the  practice  of  the 
best  Hindu  kings  in  ancient  times."  61 

In  China  the  relay  system  developed  together  with  state  roads  and 
man-made  waterways.  Perpetuating  and  elaborating  earlier  patterns,62 
the  masters  of  the  empire  established  a  postal  service  which,  with 
numerous  disruptions  and  modifications,  lasted  for  more  than  two 
thousand  years.  The  imperial  post  provided  the  government  with 
quick  and  confidential  information  on  all  parts  of  the  country.  Dur- 
ing the  Han  period,  rebellious  barbarians  not  infrequently  burned 


the  postal  stations.63  A  high  dignitary,  titled  King  of  Yen,  who  con- 
spired to  become  emperor,  set  up  a  relay  system  of  his  own  for  the 
speedy  transmission  of  messages.04  A  former  official,  wanted  by  the 
government,  stated  in  a  plaintive  memorandum  that  the  government 
began  its  search  for  him  by  dispatching  "messages  by  the  post  service 
and  the  post-horse  system  to  make  a  proclamation  near  and  far."  His 
pursuers  "examined  every  footprint  of  man"  and  "followed  every  rut 
of  the  carriage."  Eventually  the  net  that  was  "spread  ail  over  the  em- 
pire" closed  in  upon  the  fugitive;  he  was  caught  and  delivered  to  his 

The  relay  system  of  the  T'ang  government  (618-907)  operated 
through  more  than  1,500  stations,  of  which  nearly  1,300  served  over- 
land communications,  260  functioned  as  "water  posts,"  and  86  as 
both.66  The  Liao  post  was  also  exclusively  reserved  for  the  use  of 
the  state;  its  support  remained  the  burden  of  the  people.  "Every 
county  was  supposed  to  have  its  own  relay  stations  for  which  the 
local  population  had  to  provide  the  necessary  horses  and  oxen."67 

Viewed  against  such  historical  precedents,  Marco  Polo's  report  of 
the  postal  system  of  Mongol  China  does  not  seem  unreasonable,  par- 
ticularly if  we  remember  that  the  Great  Khan's  empire  included 
many  a  "roadless  tract."  68  The  Mongol  rulers  of  China  kept  an  un- 
usually large  number  of  horses.  But  it  is  noteworthy  that  in  addition 
to  maintaining  many  major  "horse  post  houses,"  even  these  mounted 
conquerors  had  many  smaller  stations  for  the  use  of  foot  runners. 
Through  the  runners,  whose  number  was  "immense,"  the  Mongol 
Empire  received  "despatches  with  news  from  places  ten  days'  journey 
off  in  one  day  and  night."  69 

The  use  of  foot  runners — as  a  supplement  to  the  horse-  and  boat- 
post — continued  until  the  last  imperial  dynasty,  Ch'ing  (1616-1912). 
In  1825  the  postal  service  operated  an  elaborate  network  of  trunk 
and  branch  roads  with  more  than  2,000  express  stations  and  almost 
15,000  stations  for  foot  messengers.  For  the  former  the  administra- 
tion budgeted  30,526  horses  and  71,279  service  men  and  for  the  lat- 
ter, 47,435  foot  messengers.  These  figures  cover  only  the  technical 
personnel.  Official  information  and  secret  intelligence  were  handled 
by  regional  and  local  officials,  whose  vigilance  was  sharpened  by 
threats  of  severe  punishment. 

The  organizational  effort  involved  in  maintaining  this  gigantic 
network  is  obvious.  The  extraordinary  opportunities  for  speedy  and 
confidential  information  are  no  less  striking.  The  metropolitan  prov- 
ince, Chihli,  alone  had  185  express  stations  and  923  foot  dispatch 
posts.  Corresponding  figures  for  Shantung  are  139  and  1,062;  for 
Shansi,  127  and  988;  for  Shensi,  148  and  534;  for  Szechwan,  66  and 

CHAPTER    3,    B  59 

1,409;  for  Yunnan,  76  and  425.  During  the  17th  and  18th  centuries 
the  Ch'ing  government  allocated  as  much  as  10  per  cent  of  its  total 
expenditures  for  the  maintenance  of  its  postal  system. 


5.  The  Organizational  Pattern  of  Warfare  in 
Hydraulic  Society 

Organized  control  over  the  bulk  of  the  population  in  times  of 
peace  gives  the  government  extraordinary  opportunities  for  coordi- 
nated mass  action  also  in  times  of  war.  This  becomes  manifest  as 
soon  as  we  contemplate  such  crucial  aspects  of  defense  as  the  monop- 
olization and  coordination  of  military  operations,  organization  of 
supplies,  military  theory,  and  potential  size  of  the  armed  forces.  A 
comparative  view  of  these  and  related  features  reveals  the  institu- 
tional peculiarities  of  hydraulic  society  in  this  field  as  in  others. 

a.  Monopolization  and  Coordination 

The  sovereign  of  a  feudal  country  did  not  possess  a  monopoly  of 
military  action.  As  a  rule,  he  could  mobilize  his  vassals  for  a  limited 
period  only,  at  first  perhaps  for  three  months  and  later  for  forty 
days,  the  holders  of  small  fiefs  often  serving  only  for  twenty  or  ten 
days,  or  even  less.71  This  temporary  levy  tended  to  affect  only  part 
of  the  vassals'  military  strength,  perhaps  a  third  or  a  fourth,  or  a  still 
smaller  fraction.72  And  frequently  even  this  fraction  was  not  obliged 
to  follow  the  sovereign,  if  he  campaigned  abroad.73 

The  national  sovereign  had  full  control  only  over  his  own  troops, 
which  in  accordance  with  the  decentralized  character  of  society  con- 
stituted only  a  part — and  often  a  not  very  large  part — of  the  tempo- 
rarily assembled  national  armies.  In  England  the  Norman  Conquest 
accelerated  the  growth  of  governmental  power;  but  even  here  the 
royal  core  was  slow  in  prevailing.  In  1300  during  the  Carlaverock 
campaign,  the  king  accomplished  what  Tout  considers  a  maximal 
mobilization  of  "horse  guards  of  the  crown."  At  this  time  the  "house- 
hold" element  was  "roughly  about  a  quarter  of  the  whole  number 
of  men-at-arms";  at  best  it  was  "nearer  a  third  than  a  quarter."  74  In 
1467  the  German  emperor  tried  to  gather  an  army  of  5,217  horsemen 
and  13,285  foot  soldiers  for  fighting  against  the  Turks.  Out  of  the 
aimed-at  total,  the  emperor's  own  contingent  was  expected  to  com- 
prise 300  horsemen  and  700  foot  soldiers,  while  six  electors  were 
expected  to  contribute  320  and  740  respectively;  forty-seven  arch- 
bishops and  bishops  721  and  1,813;  twenty-one  princes  735  and 
1,730;  various  counts  and  seigneurs  679  and  1,383;  and  seventy-nine 
towns  1,059  anc*  2,926." 


In  all  these  respects  the  armies  of  the  hydraulic  state  proceeded  on 
an  entirely  different  level.  The  soldiers  were  not  protected  by  demo- 
cratic checks  or  feudal  contracts.  No  matter  whether  they  held  office 
land  or  not,  they  came  when  they  were  summoned;  they  marched 
where  they  were  told;  they  fought  as  long  as  their  ruler  wanted  them 
to  fight;  and  there  was  no  question  as  to  who  gave  the  orders  or  who 

The  constant  rotation  of  the  many  armed  contingents  that  in  ac- 
cordance with  the  feudal  contract  served  only  for  a  short  period  con- 
stituted a  major  reason  for  the  restlessness  that  characterized  virtually 
all  compound  feudal  armies.  Another  reason  was  the  lack  of  a  defi- 
nite authority.  Where  the  sovereign  was  little  more  than  the  first 
among  equals,  and  where  the  many  lords  proudly  insisted  on  the 
privileges  of  their  position,  argument  easily  replaced  obedience.  Con- 
sequently military  action  was  marked  as  much  by  the  lack  of  disci- 
pline as  by  individual  valor. 


b.  Training  and  Morale 

The  army  of  a  hydraulic  state  might  include  among  those  it  drafted 
many  persons  of  poor  training  and  little  fighting  spirit.  With  regard 
to  skill  these  men  might  compare  unfavorably  with  a  feudal  host, 
whose  members  were  carefully  trained,  and  with  regard  to  morale 
they  might  be  inferior  to  the  warriors  of  both  ancient  Greece  and 
feudal  Europe.  But  in  planned  coordination  they  approached  the 
ancient  Greeks;  and  they  far  surpassed  the  European  chevaliers. 

Table  2.  Types  of  Societies  and  Types  of  Fighters 





Hydraulic  Society 

Classical  Greece 

Feudal  Europe 



t                    t                                                \ 

Professional  Drafted  men: 
troops           "militia" 
Training                           4-                    — 
Spirit                                  -f                     — 
Coordination                     -f-                     -}- 


-\-  Feature  developed 

—  Feature  weak  or  absent 





The  Greeks,  who  recognized  the  high  quality  of  the  Oriental  elite 
warriors,d  commented  contemptuously  on  the  poorly  trained  mass  of 
auxiliary  soldiers,77  who  obviously  were  draftees.  Most  of  them  did 
indeed  lack  the  spirited  integration  which  was  the  pride  of  the 

d.  See  Herodotus'  account  of  the  conversation  between   the  exiled   Spartan  king, 
Demaratus,  and  Xerxes  (Herodotus  7.  103  f.). 

CHAPTER    3,    B  6l 

Greek  citizen  armies.78  But  opposed  to  the  disorderly  hosts  of 
Medieval  Europe  the  well-coordinated  troops  of  the  Eastern  mon- 
archies made  formidable  enemies.  About  a.d.  goo  the  author  of  the 
Tactica,  Emperor  Leo  VI,e  advised  his  generals  to  "take  advantage 
of  their  [the  Franks'  and  Lombards']  indiscipline  and  disorder." 
"They  have  neither  organisation  nor  drill"  and  therefore,  "whether 
fighting  on  foot  or  on  horseback,  they  charge  in  dense,  unwieldy 
masses,  which  cannot  manoeuvre."  T9  In  the  organization  of  the 
Western  armies  "there  is  nothing  to  compare  to  our  own  orderly 
division  into  batallions  and  brigades."  Their  camping  is  poor,  so 
they  can  be  easily  attacked  during  the  night.  "They  take  no  care 
about  their  commissariat."  Under  privation,  their  ranks  tend  to 
disintegrate  "for  they  are  destitute  of  all  respect  for  their  com- 
manders,— one  noble  thinks  himself  as  good  as  another, — -and  they 
will  deliberately  disobey  orders  when  they  grow  discontented."  80 

This  picture  of  "a  Western  army  of  the  ninth  or  tenth  century, 
the  exact  period  of  the  development  of  feudal  cavalry,"  81  remains 
valid,  with  certain  modifications,  for  the  entire  age  of  European 
feudalism.  Oman  describes  the  hosts  of  the  Crusades  as  "a  mixed 
multitude,  with  little  or  no  organisation.""82  "Their  want  of  dis- 
cipline was  as  well  marked  as  their  proneness  to  plunder;  deliberate 
disobedience  on  the  part  of  officers  was  as  common  as  carelessness 
and  recklessness  on  the  part  of  the  rank  and  file.  This  was  always 
the  case  in  feudal  armies."  83 

The  modern  Egyptian  historian,  Atiya,  ascribes  the  victory  of  the 
Turks  in  the  last  major  crusade  to  the  Christians'  lack  of  "unity  of 
arms  and  companies"  and  of  "common  tactics."  Conversely,  the 
"Turkish  army  was  ...  a  perfect  example  of  the  most  stringent 
discipline,  of  a  rigorous  and  even  fanatic  unity  of  purpose,  of  the 
concentration  of  supreme  tactical  power  in  the  sole  person  of  the 
Sultan."  8i 

c.  Organization  of  Supplies 

The  masters  of  hydraulic  society  applied  the  same  organizational 
devices  in  the  military  sphere  that  they  employed  with  such  success 
in  construction  and  communication.  In  many  cases,  the  recruits 
for  war  could  be  as  comprehensively  mobilized  as  the  recruits  for 
toil.  The  assembled  armies  moved  in  orderly  fashion,  and  camping 

e.  For  reasons  indicated  in  the  Introduction,  above,  our  presentation  includes  refer- 
ences to  Byzantium  after  the  Arab  conquests,  to  the  Liao  empire,  to  Maya  society, 
and  to  other  marginal  hydraulic  civilizations.  The  marginal  areas  of  the  hydraulic 
world  are  more  fully  discussed  in  Chap.  6,  below. 


and  scouting  were  often  highly  developed.  Whenever  feasible,  the 
armies  lived  off  the  land;  but  numerous  means  were  invoked  to  cope 
with  possible  shortages. 

The  Incas  had  a  "superb  supply  system."  85  The  Persian  king, 
Xerxes,  in  preparation  for  his  invasion  of  Greece  "laid  up  stores 
of  provisions  in  many  places.  .  .  .  He  inquired  carefully  about  all 
the  sites,  and  had  the  stores  laid  up  in  such  as  were  most  convenient, 
causing  them  to  be  brought  across  from  various  parts  of  Asia  and 
in  various  ways,  some  in  transports  and  others  in  merchantmen."88 
The  Byzantine  generals  were  definitely  concerned  with  the  "com- 
missariat" of  their  troops.87  The  Arabs  and  Turks,  at  the  peak  of 
their  power,  paid  considerable  attention  to  the  supply  problem, 
which  was  handled  by  methods  suited  to  their  special  form  of  war- 
fare.88 The  history  of  Chinese  warfare  is  filled  with  references  to 
precisely  this  matter. 


d.  Planned  Warfare  and  Military  Theory 

Feudal  warfare,  being  unfavorable  to  the  development  of  tactics 
and  strategy  in  the  proper  sense  of  these  terms,90  also  failed  to  develop 
military  theory.  Medieval  chronicles  contain  innumerable  references 
to  battles,  and  the  epics  of  knighthood  never  tire  of  describing 
military  adventures.  But  they  are  concerned  essentially  with  the 
prowess  of  individual  fighters.  Tactical  considerations  remain  as 
irrelevant  in  literature  as  in  reality. 

In  the  hydraulic  world  the  organization  of  warfare  was  elaborately 
discussed.  Military  experts  liked  to  evaluate  their  experiences  in 
treatises  on  tactics  and  strategy/  The  Arthashastra  shows  Maurya 
India  well  aware  of  the  problems  of  aggression  and  defense.91  The 
comprehensive  Byzantine  literature  on  warfare  indicates  the  many 
problems  posed  by  the  empire's  defense  strategy.02 

The  organizational  trends  of  Islamic  warfare  are  significantly 
foreshadowed  in  a  passage  of  the  Koran  which  assures  the  love  of 
Allah  to  those  who  fight  for  him  "in  ranks  as  though  they  were  a 
compact  building."  93  Later  many  Muslim  writers  discussed  military 

Yet  probably  no  great  hydraulic  civilization  produced  a  more  ex- 
tensive military  literature  than  China.  Contrary  to  the  prevailing 
notion,  Chinese  statesmen  paid  much  attention  to  military  prob- 
lems; they  already  did  so  during  the  period  of  the  territorial  states, 
which  in  this  respect  as  in  so  many  others  followed  hydraulic  rather 

/.  The  military  writings  of  ancient  Greece  reflect  a   similar,   though   differently 
rooted,  interest  in  organized  warfare. 

CHAPTER    3,    B  6g 


than  feudal  patterns.  The  author  of  The  Art  of  War,  Sun  Tzu, 
however  brilliant,  was  not  the  sole  great  military  theoretician  in 
this  period — Sun  Ping  and  Wu  Ch'i  rate  as  high,96  and  many  of  the 
ideas  Sun  Tzu  put  forth  are  acknowledged  to  have  been  based  on 
earlier  writings.97 

Almost  every  major  territorial  state  had  its  own  school  of  military 
thought.98  But  no  matter  how  early  the  various  concepts  were  first 
formulated,  it  was  in  the  period  of  the  territorial  states  that  they 
assumed  their  classical  shape.  For  very  pragmatic  reasons  the  empire 
maintained  a  lively  interest  in  the  problems  of  warfare.  To  mention 
but  one  piece  of  evidence,  all  major  official  histories  from  the  T'ang 
dynasty  (618-907)  on  included  special,  and  often  large,  sections  on 
military  affairs. 

e.  Numbers 

The  masters  of  the  hydraulic  state,  who  monopolized  coordinated 
military  action,  could — if  they  so  wished — raise  large  armies.  Their 
mobilization  potential  was  entirely  different  from,  and  greatly 
superior  to,  that  of  feudal  Europe. 

In  Medieval  England  the  Normans  inherited  a  military  order 
which,  in  addition  to  a  feudal  elite,  contained  elements  of  an  older 
tribal  levy.  The  conquerors  succeeded  in  preserving  and  developing 
these  rudiments  of  a  national  army;  but  even  in  England  the  feudal 
state  could  draw  on  only  a  part  of  the  population. 

The  armies  of  hydraulic  civilizations  were  not  so  limited.  Their 
numerical  strength  varied  with  such  factors  as  military  techniques 
(infantry  warfare,  chariots,  and  light  or  heavy  cavalry),  economic  con- 
ditions (a  natural  or  a  money  economy),  and  national  composition 
(indigenous  rule  or  submission  under  a  conquering  people).  But 
potentially  it  was  large. 

Where  all  soldiers  fight  on  foot — either  because  suitable  animals 
are  lacking  or  because  charioteering  or  riding  are  unknown  skills — 
numbers  tend  to  be  important,  even  when  different  parts  of  the 
army  are  differently  armed  and  trained.  In  ancient  Mexico,99  as  well 
as  in  Inca  Peru,100  the  government  levied  large  infantry  armies. 
Where  charioteering  or  riding  are  practiced,  foot  soldiers  may  count 
for  less  and  their  number  may  decrease  substantially.  The  rise  of  a 
money  economy  favors  the  recruiting  of  mercenaries,  who  may 
constitute  the  only  major  standing  (cadre)  army  or  who  may  serve 
along  with  a  "noble"  elite. 

And  then  there  is  conquest.  Often,  and  especially  at  the  beginning 
of  a  conquest  dynasty,  the  alien  ruler  will  depend  on  his  own  na- 


tionals  to  keep  his  power  secure;  and  he  will  give  little  special 
training  to  his  newly  acquired  subjects.101 

But  no  matter  how  the  armies  of  agrarian  despotism  are  con- 
ditioned, the  advantages  of  size  rarely  disappear  altogether.  The  best 
armies  of  the  advanced  type  are  usually  composite  bodies.102 

As  noted  above,  the  feudal  armies  of  Medieval  Europe  were  small 
units  of  mounted  elite  fighters.  An  army  dispatched  by  Charles  the 
Bald  numbered  less  than  five  thousand  warriors;  and  on  several  later 
occasions  the  records  speak  only  of  a  couple  of  hundred  horsemen.103 
The  international  armies  of  the  crusades  were  usually  composed  of 
a  few  thousand  to  no  more  than  ten  thousand  men.9  The  Arabs  had 
brilliant  cadre  armies  of  mounted  fighters,  which  were  supplemented 
by  sizable  units  of  auxiliary  troops.104  The  standing  armies  of  the 
first  Umayyad  caliphs  are  said  to  have  numbered  about  sixty  thou- 
sand men;  and  the  last  ruler  of  this  dynasty  is  credited  by  Ibn 
al-Athlr  with  a  host  of  120,000  soldiers.105  Harun  al-Rashid  once 
undertook  a  summer  campaign  with  135,000  regular  soldiers  and 
an  unspecified  number  of  volunteers.106 

Similarly  illuminating  is  a  comparison  of  the  armies  of  feudal 
Europe  with  those  of  the  "Western  Caliphate"  of  Cordoba.  Accord- 
ing to  Islamic  sources,  Moorish  Spain  in  the  10th  century  dispatched 
twenty  thousand  horsemen  on  a  northern  campaign.  Lot  doubts 
this  figure  because,  in  the  contemporary  European  context,  it  seems 
unbelievably  large.  Says  he:  "The  whole  of  Europe  was  unable  to 
levy  at  this  epoch  such  a  number."  107  His  comment  is  as  correct 
as  it  is  inconclusive.  The  distinguished  historian  himself  notes  the 
enormous  revenues  collected  by  the  Cordoban  caliphate:  "What  a 
contrast  to  the  Carolingian  Empire  or  the  Ottoman  Empire,  states 
without  finance!  Only  the  emperor  of  Eastern  Rome,  the  Byzantine 
basileus,  had  perhaps  equivalent  resources."  10S  In  another  part  of  his 
study  he  credits  the  early  Byzantine  Empire  with  two  armies  of 
eighteen  thousand  men  each,  plus  an  unknown  number  of  occupa- 
tion troops  in  Africa  and  Italy  109 — that  is,  with  a  force  of  more, 
perhaps  considerably  more,  than  40,000  men.  In  view  of  these  facts 
there  is  no  reason  to  doubt  that  Moorish  Spain,  a  hydraulic  country 
with  a  very  dense  population  and  a  revenue  far  in  excess  of  any 
of  its  European  contemporaries,  could  put  into  the  field  a  host  half 

g.  Lot,  1946,  I:  130,  175,  201.  Even  at  the  close  of  the  Crusades,  the  international 
European  army  that  fought  in  1396  at  Nicopolis  against  the  invading  Turks  had  no 
national  contingent  comprising  more  than  ten  thousand  warriors,  except  that  of  the 
immediately  threatened  Hungarians.  The  Hungarians  are  said  to  have  levied  some 
60,000  men  (Atiya,  1934:  67),  which  would  indeed  have  been  something  like  a  levee 
en  masse. 

CHAPTER    3,    B  65 

as  large  as  the  army  of  the  Byzantine  Empire,  whose  revenues,  accord- 
ing to  Lot's  own  statement,  it  easily  matched. 

At  the  time  of  Achaemenian  Persia,  foot  soldiers  still  constituted 
the  bulk  of  all  fighting  men.  Herodotus  estimates  that  the  Persian 
Great  King  mobilized  against  the  Greeks  about  two  million  men,110 
including  his  elite  fighters,  the  ten  thousand  "Immortals."  U1  Del- 
briick  is  certainly  justified  in  doubting  that  any  such  large  force 
was  actually  sent  to  Europe,  but  his  argument  becomes  problem- 
atic to  the  extreme  when  he  suggests  that  the  invasion  army  num- 
bered only  some  five  or  six  thousand  armed  men.112  Nor  is  there  any 
reason  to  reject  the  possibility  that,  within  its  confines,  the  Persian 
empire  was  able  to  raise  armies  of  several  hundred  thousand  men. 
Munro  suggests  that  Herodotus  misinterpreted  an  official  Persian 
source  when  he  estimated  Persia's  total  armed  strength  at  1,800,000 
men.  Munro  himself  assumes  that  Xerxes  could  muster  360,000  men 
and  that  the  expeditionary  force  against  Greece  might  have  num- 
bered 1 80,000. h 

The  size  of  India's  earlier  armies,  which  appears  "incredible  at 
first  sight,"  113  becomes  plausible  through  comparison  with  the  figures 
we  have  for  the  later  phase  of  Muslim  India.  According  to  Greek 
sources,  on  the  eve  of  the  Maurya  empire  King  Mahapadma  Nanda 
is  said  to  have  had  80,000  horsemen,  200,000  foot  soldiers,  8,000 
chariots,  and  6,000  fighting  elephants;  n*  and  the  figures  given  for 
Chandragupta's  host  are,  with  the  exception  of  the  cavalry,  much 
larger,  totaling  "690,000  in  all,  excluding  followers  and  attend- 
ants." 115  Data  for  later  periods  claim  armies  of  100,000  foot  soldiers 
in  the  Andhra  kingdom  and  hundreds  of  thousands  to  several  million 
soldiers  under  the  last  Southern  Hindu  kings116  and  the  great 
Muslim  rulers.117 

In  ancient  China  elite  units  of  charioteers  fought  alongside  large 
detachments  of  foot  soldiers.  During  the  later  part  of  the  Chou 
dynasty  cavalry  began  to  supplement  the  chariots,  but  apparently 
the  new  composite  armies  were  more  rather  than  less  numerous. 
On  the  eve  of  the  imperial  period  the  leading  territorial  states  are 
said  to  have  mobilized  three  and  a  half  million  foot  soldiers,  plus 
an  undefined  number  of  charioteers  and  over  thirty  thousand  horse- 

The  Liao  empire  had,  in  the  ordus,  a  cadre  cavalry  of  about  fifty 

h.  See  Munro,  1939:  271-3.  Eduard  Meyer  (GA,  IV,  Pt.  1:  5)  states  that  Herodotus' 
description  of  Xerxes'  army,  like  the  list  of  Darius'  tributes  and  other  specific  pieces 
of  information,  was  based  on  authentic  Persian  sources.  Munro  (ibid.,  271)  feels  certain 
that  Herodotus'  list  of  Xerxes'  army  was  substantially  the  reproduction  of  "an 
official  document." 


to  sixty  thousand  fighters;  and  its  records  boast  a  militia  of  a  million 
men.110  Under  the  Sung  dynasty  (960-1279)  the  Chinese  government 
is  said  to  have  trained — poorly,  but  nevertheless  trained — a  standing 
army  of  more  than  one  million  soldiers.120  The  Banners  of  the 
Manchu  dynasty  were  a  standing  army  that  at  least  during  the  first 
phase  constituted  a  highly  qualified  cavalry  elite.  At  the  end  of  the 
19th  century  these  armies,  which  included  Manchu,  Mongol,  and 
Chinese  Bannermen,  totaled  120,000  soldiers.  In  addition,  the  gov- 
ernment also  had  an  essentially  Chinese  "Green"  Army,  which 
numbered  some  five  to  six  hundred  thousand  men.121 

/.  Percentages 

While  noting  this,  we  have  to  remember  that  the  hydraulic  civili- 
zations that  maintained  large  armies  generally  also  had  large  popu- 
lations. Yet  different  external  and  internal  conditions  made  for  a 
wide  range  in  the  percentages  of  the  total  population  included  in 
the  fighting  forces. 

The  army  of  late  Ch'ing  probably  constituted  less  than  0.2  per 
cent  of  the  total  population.  In  the  Han  empire  every  able-bodied 
peasant  was  obliged  to  render  both  labor  and  defense  service.  Theo- 
retically this  affected  40  per  cent  of  the  rural  population  122  or  some- 
thing like  32  per  cent  of  the  entire  population.  The  cadre  army 
of  the  Liao  dynasty  amounted  to  about  one  per  cent  of  the  popula- 
tion. The  peasant  militia  comprised,  on  paper,  about  20  per  cent. 
Herodotus'  data,  as  interpreted  by  Munro,  suggest  that  in  Achaeme- 
nian  Persia  out  of  a  population  of  less  than  twenty  millions  123  about 
1.8  per  cent  could  be  mobilized.  Assuming  that  the  population  of 
late  Chou  China  was  as  large  as  that  of  the  Han  empire  at  its  best, 
namely  about  sixty  millions  (which  probably  it  was  not),  the  average 
mobilization  potential  of  the  great  absolutist  territorial  states  would 
have  been  almost  6  per  cent. 

Of  course,  there  is  no  evidence  that  in  any  of  these  cases  an  attempt 
was  made  to  realize  the  full  mobilization  potential.  The  Sung  govern- 
ment, which  in  the  11th  century  levied  a  million  soldiers  from 
almost  twenty  million  families,  that  is,  from  almost  one  hundred 
million  people,  was  actually  drafting  slightly  more  than  one  per 
cent  of  its  population. 

Comparison  with  ancient  Greece  and  feudal  Europe  is  instructive. 
In  an  emergency  all  able-bodied  free  men  of  a  Greek  city  state  could 
be  mobilized.  During  the  5th  century  B.C.,  Athens  may  temporarily 
have  had  under  arms  over  12  per  cent  of  the  total  population,  and 
something  like  20  per  cent  of  all  free  persons.12* 

CHAPTER    3,    C  67 

The  army  that  the  German  emperor  raised  in  1467  may  have  repre- 
sented 0.15  per  cent  of  the  total  population  of  twelve  millions,  and 
Charles  the  Bald's  above-mentioned  army  about  0.05  per  cent  of 
what  is  estimated  to  have  been  the  population  of  France.125  Thus 
the  extremely  low  percentage  for  the  late  Ch'ing  period  still  is 
higher  than  the  German  figure  for  1467,  and  it  is  almost  four  times 
higher  than  the  figure  for  gth-century  France.  The  difference  be- 
tween the  feudal  ratio  and  our  other  hydraulic  percentages  is 

To  be  sure,  in  Medieval  Europe  the  feudal  lords,  monasteries,  and 
burgher  towns  had  many  more  soldiers;  but  these  soldiers,  being 
in  excess  of  the  agreed-upon  service  quota,  were  not  obliged  to 
fight  in  the  armies  of  their  supreme  overlord.  The  feudal  govern- 
ment was  too  weak  to  mobilize  more  than  a  fraction  of  the  nation's 
able-bodied  men;  the  agrodespotic  regimes,  like  the  ancient  city 
states,  were  not  so  handicapped.  Technical  and  political  considera- 
tions might  induce  them  to  employ  only  a  small  percentage  of 
their  subjects  for  military  purposes.  But  compared  to  feudal  con- 
ditions, even  relatively  small  armies  of  hydraulic  states  tended  to  be 
quantitatively  impressive;  and  the  mass  armies  of  agromanagerial 
regimes  completely  exceeded  both  in  absolute  and  relative  terms 
the  armies  of  comparable  feudal  governments. 


1.  Organizational  and  Bureaucratic  Prerequisites 

The  men  who  direct  the  constructional  and  organizational  enter- 
prises of  hydraulic  society  can  do  so  only  on  the  basis  of  an  appro- 
priately regulated  income.  Special  modes  of  acquisition  emerge 
therefore,  together  with  special  modes  of  construction  and  organiza- 

The  acquisition  of  a  steady  and  ample  governmental  revenue  in- 
volves a  variety  of  organizational  and  bureaucratic  operations  as 
soon  as  the  hydraulic  commonwealth  outgrows  local  dimensions; 
and  the  need  for  such  devices  becomes  particularly  great  when  the 
administrative  and  managerial  functions  are  fulfilled  by  numerous 
full-time  officials.  Gradually  the  masters  of  the  hydraulic  state 
become  as  much  concerned  with  acquisitive  operations  as  with  their 
hydraulic,  communicational,  and  defense  tasks.  As  will  be  shown 
below,  under  certain  conditions  taxation  and  related  methods  of 
proprietary  control  may  flourish  together  with  an  integrated  army 
and  a  state  post  without  any  relevant  hydraulic  enterprises. 

68  a  state  stronger  than  society 

2.  Labor  on  the  Public  Fields  and/or  the 
Land  Tax 

The  incipient  hydraulic  community  may  make  no  special  arrange- 
ments for  the  support  of  its  leadership.  However,  the  consolidation 
of  hydraulic  conditions  is  generally  accompanied  by  a  tendency  to 
free  the  chief  from  agricultural  work  in  order  that  he  may  devote 
himself  completely  to  his  communal  secular  or  religious  functions. 
To  this  end  the  tribesmen  cooperate  on  the  chief's  land,  as  they  do 
on  the  irrigation  ditches,  defense  works,  and  other  communal  enter- 

The  Suk,  who  give  only  a  fraction  of  their  economic  effort  to 
hydraulic  agriculture,  have  no  public  land;  but  in  the  Pueblos  the 
commoners  are  rallied  for  work  on  the  cacique's  fields.1  This  is  done 
largely  by  persuasion;  but  coercion  is  not  shunned  when  the 
situation  requires  it.°  In  the  larger  communities  of  the  Chagga 
the  ruler  wields  more  power  and  disposes  over  much  land.  The 
communal  work  involved  in  its  cultivation  is  by  no  means  light, 
but  the  tribesmen  receive  little  or  no  compensation  for  doing  it — 
at  most  some  meat  and  a  few  swallows  of  beer  at  the  conclusion  of 
their  tasks.  Thus  the  Chagga  commoner  who  tells  his  white  friend, 
"For  you  we  are  working,  not  as  in  the  corvee,  but  as  on  our  own 
fields,"  2  manifestly  performs  his  agricultural  corvee  duty  without 

The  masters  of  a  developed  hydraulic  state  depend  for  their 
maintenance  on  the  population's  surplus  labor  or  surplus  produce, 
on  the  cash  equivalent  of  such  produce,  or  on  a  combination  of  all, 
or  some,  of  these  sources.  Work  on  government  (and  temple)  fields 
was  regular  practice  in  Inca  Peru,  Aztec  Mexico,6  and  throughout 
the  greater  part  of  Chou  China.  The  extensive  temple  lands  of  the 
Sumerian  temple  cities  were  cultivated  in  the  main  by  soldier- 
peasants,  who  constituted  the  bulk  of  the  temple  personnel;  but 
the  communal  farmers  apparently  delivered  only  a  fixed  part  of  their 
crop  to  the  storehouses,  and  this  they  did  personally  and  directly.3 

a.  Aitken  (1930:  385)  juxtaposes  "the  gay  working  parties  of  the  Hopi"  to  the 
"compulsory  work  for  the  priest-chief  and  on  the  communal  irrigation  ditches"  in  the 
Rio  Grande  Pueblos.  Significantly,  the  work  on  the  chief's  field  was  directed  by  the 
war  chief,  the  chief  disciplinary  agent  in  the  Pueblos  (see  White,  1932:  42,  45;  ibid., 
1942:  97  ff.  and  98,  n.  10;  also  Parsons,  1939,  II:  884,  889),  and  this  was  the  case  not 
only  in  the  hydraulically  more  compact  eastern  Pueblos  but  in  the  western  Pueblos 
as  well. 

b.  Maya  commoners,  like  the  members  of  the  Mexican  calpulli,  cultivated  special 
land  for  the  "lords,"  the  representatives  of  the  local  and  central  government  (see 
Landa,  1938:  104). 

CHAPTER    3,    C  69 

The  Sumerian  arrangement  contrasts  sharply  with  the  coordinated 
work  teams  of  the  Inca  villages  *  and  the  "thousands  of  pairs"  that, 
according  to  an  old  Chinese  ode,  jointly  tilled  the  public  fields  in 
early  Chou  times.5  In  Pharaonic  Egypt  the  bulk  of  all  arable  land 
seems  to  have  been  assigned  to  individual  peasants,  who,  after  the 
harvest  had  been  gathered,  delivered  part  of  their  crop  to  the  ap- 
propriate officials.6 

State  farms  ("domains"),"  on  which  special  groups  of  serving  men 
were  employed,  occurred  in  a  number  of  hydraulic  civilizations; 
but  except  for  pre-Conquest  America  and  Chou  China,  the  majority 
of  all  hydraulic  states  d  seem  to  have  preferred  the  land  tax  to  corvee 
labor  on  large  government  fields.  Why? 

There  is  no  consistent  correlation  between  the  predominance  of  a 
natural  economy  and  the  predominance  of  the  public  land  system. 
International  trade  and  money-like  means  of  exchange  were  more 
developed  in  Aztec  Mexico  than  in  the  Old  and  Middle  Kingdoms 
of  Egypt.  Possibly  the  absence — or  presence — of  agricultural  labor 
animals  exerted  a  more  basic  influence.  Peasants  who,  without  bene- 
fit of  such  animals,  tilled  the  land  with  a  digging  stick  (as  they  did 
in  ancient  Peru  and  Meso-America)  or  with  a  hoe  (as  they  did  in 
the  greater  part  of  Chou  China),  may  be  effectively  coordinated  in 
semimilitary  teams,  even  when  they  work  irrigated  fields,  whereas 
plowing  teams  function  more  effectively  when  permitted  to  operate 
as  separate  units  on  separate  fields. 

Significantly,  plowing  with  oxen  spread  in  China  during  the  final 
phase  of  the  Chou  dynasty  7  that  witnessed  the  gradual  abolition  of 
the  public  field  system.  The  peasants  of  Lagash,  who  for  the  most 
part  seem  to  have  worked  the  temple  land  individually,  were  en- 
tirely familiar  with  the  use  of  agricultural  labor  animals.  So  were 
the  peasants  of  Pharaonic  Egypt  and  of  Hindu  and  Muslim  India. 
Thus  most  of  the  hydraulic  states,  in  which  work  animals  were  used 
in  cultivation,  were  maintained  by  the  production  of  individual 
farmers  and  not  by  the  joint  effort  of  an  agricultural  corvee. 

c.  State  farms,  sita,  flourished  in  India  during  the  later  part  of  the  first  millennium 
B.C.  (ArthafSstra,  1926:  177  ff.).  These  farms,  however,  must  be  distinguished  from  the 
Mogul  khalsa,  which  is  often  referred  to  as  the  rajah's  "domain."  Unfortunately,  the 
term  "domain"  has  been  applied  both  to  large  sectors  of  public  land  ("the  king's  land") 
and  to  limited  farmlike  estates.  The  Mogul  khalsa  certainly  falls  within  the  first 
category.  According  to  Baden-Powell  (1896:  198),  the  Mogul  rulers  used  the  term 
khalsa  to  designate  "the  whole  of  the  lands  paying  revenue  direct  to  the  Treasury." 

d.  Traces  of  public  fields  are  reported  for  certain  regions  of  India.  Whether  they 
reflect  primitive  tribal  institutions,  possibly  of  Dravidian  or  pre-Dravidian  origin,  is  an 
open  question  (see  Baden-Powell,  1896:  179,  180;  ibid.,  1892,  I:  576  ff.;  Hewitt,  1887: 
622  ff.). 



The  following  table  indicates  different  forms  in  which  a  number 
of  representative  hydraulic  governments  obtained  their  rural  reve- 

Table  3.  Rural  Revenue  of  Hydraulic  Governments 



'"Public"  Land                        Taxes 

in  Kind 

Partly  in  Kind, 
Partly  in  Cash 

Tribal  societies: 




(+)'                     + 

Ancient  America: 
Inca  Peru 


The  Near  East: 
Sumerian  temple  cities 
Pharaonic  Egypt 
Hellenistic  and  Roman 
Early  Byzantium 
The  Arab  caliphates 
Ottoman  Turkey 


+  ' 





traces                    4. 

Early  Chou 
Late  Chou 
The  Imperial  period  (roughly) 

Documented  Transition 



4.  Feature  developed 

—  Feature  undeveloped 

or  absent 

/.  Some. 

2.  Individual  responsibility 


3.  Universality  and  Weight  of  the  Hydraulic  Tax 

The  fact  that  work  on  the  public  fields  was  usually  shared  by  all 
corviable  adult  males  indicates  the  power  of  the  hydraulic  leader- 
ship to  make  everyone  contribute  to  its  support.  The  establishment 
of  a  money  economy  goes  hand  in  hand  with  greater  differentiations 
in  property,  class  structure,  and  national  revenue.  But  the  hydraulic 
state,  as  the  master  of  a  huge  organizational  apparatus,  continues  to 
impose  it  fiscal  demands  on  the  mass  of  all  commoners.  Comparison 
shows  that  in  this  respect  it  was  much  stronger  than  the  governments 
of  other  agrarian  societies. 

CHAPTER    3,    C  71 

In  classical  Athens  "the  dignity  of  the  citizen  could  not  submit  to 
personal  taxes."  8  When  the  famous  city  "already  held  the  hegemony 
in  Greece,  she  had  neither  regular  taxes  nor  a  treasury"; 9  and  her 
national  support  came  essentially  from  customs  and  oversea  revenues. 
In  republican  Rome  the  free  citizens  were  equally  eager  to  keep 
public  expenses  low.  The  only  major  direct  tax,  the  tributum, 
amounted  to  0.1-0.3  per  cent  of  the  taxed  person's  property.6  In 
both  cases  the  nongovernmental  forces  of  society  kept  the  adminis- 
trative apparatus  small  in  both  personnel  and  budget,  distinguished 
office  holders  receiving  only  an  insignificant  salary  or  none. 

The  rulers  of  Medieval  Europe  supported  themselves  essentially 
from  their  personal  domains,  which  comprised  only  a  fraction  of 
the  nation's  territory.  The  occasional  or  regular  fees  which  they 
collected  in  their  wider  territory  were  so  limited  that  they  dem- 
onstrate the  weakness  rather  than  the  strength  of  the  sovereign's 
fiscal  power.  The  Norman  conquerors  pioneered  in  establishing  a. 
stronger  state;  but  for  reasons  discussed  below  even  they  were  able 
to  impose  taxes  on  all  their  subjects  only  intermittently.10  After  a 
century  of  struggle  a  mighty  knighthood  restricted  the  king's  right 
to  levy  taxes  without  the  consent  of  the  "common  council"  to  the 
three  "aids,"  as  was  the  custom  in  almost  every  feudal  country  on 
the  continent. 

It  is  with  these  agrarian  societies,  and  not  with  the  proto-industrial 
and  industrial  West,  that  the  great  societies  of  the  East  must  be 
compared.  The  masters  of  hydraulic  agriculture  spread  their  tax- 
collecting  offices  as  widely  as  their  registering  and  mobilizing 
agencies.  All  adult  males  were  expected  to  toil,  fight,  and  pay  when- 
ever the  state  willed  it.  This  was  the  rule.  Exemptions  had  to  be 
especially  granted,  and  even  when  granted,  they  were  often  canceled 
either  after  a  prescribed  period  or  when  the  grantor's  reign  ended. 

Rural  revenue  was  calculated  in  varying  ways.  Sometimes  adult 
males,  sometimes  family  "heads,"  and  sometimes  land  units  formed 
the  basis  for  assessment.  In  Babylonia  the  land  tax  was  collected 
even  from  soldiers  who  held  service  fields.11  The  government  might 
demand  as  a  general  land  tax  20  per  cent  of  the  annual  crop.  The 
same  official  rate  is  suggested  also  for  the  New  Kingdom  of  Pharaonic 
Egypt.12  In  India  during  the  later  part  of  the  first  millennium  B.C. 
it  was  one-twelfth,  one-sixth,  or  one-fourth  of  the  crop.  The 
Arthashastra  permits  the  king,  in  an  emergency,  to  take  up  to  one- 
third  (instead  of  one-fourth)  of  the  crop  of  the  cultivator  of  good 
irrigated  land.13  Many  different  rate-scales  are  recorded  for  late 
Chou  and  imperial  China.  Originally  the  Islamic  regulations  made 

e.  Originally  taxable  property  was  confined  to  land,  slaves,  and  animals;   later  it 
included  property  of  all  kinds  (Schiller,  1893:  196;  cf.  Homo,  1927:  237). 


distinctions  mainly  in  accordance  with  creed;  but  gradually  condi- 
tions became  much  more  involved;  and,  of  course,  they  differed 
widely  in  time  and  space.  The  many  arguments  about  heavy  taxation 
show  that,  under  Islamic  rule,  the  land  tax  was  as  burdensome,  and 
tended  to  become  as  universal,  as  in  other  parts  of  the  hydraulic 

A  government  that  keeps  to  the  official  rates  is  considered  just; 
but  most  governments  preferred  material  to  moral  satisfaction. 
Many  a  sovereign  went  beyond  the  letter  of  the  law.  The  clay  tablets 
of  Babylonia  indicate  that  the  state,  which  theoretically  was  content 
with  about  10  per  cent,  occasionally  raised  the  tax  "to  1/5,  1/4,  1/3, 
and  even  one  half"  of  the  crop.14 

Nor  is  this  all.  The  payments,  which  appear  in  official  lists,  are  in 
most  cases  below,  and  often  far  below,  the  payments  which  the 
tax  gatherers  actually  extracted.  Even  in  the  most  rational  of  all 
hydraulic  states  the  higher  echelons  of  the  bureaucracy  found  it 
difficult  to  exert  full  control  over  their  subordinates.  Often  the  very 
effort  to  compel  complete  delivery  was  lacking. 

The  distribution  of  the  total  tax  income  among  the  various  strata 
and  categories  of  the  officialdom  varied  greatly.  The  divergencies 
are  highly  significant  for  the  distribution  of  power  within  the 
bureaucracy;  but  they  are  irrelevant  from  the  point  of  view  of  the 
state  as  a  whole.  The  fiscal  power  of  the  hydraulic  apparatus  state 
must  be  measured  by  the  total  tax  that  the  bureaucracy  in  its 
entirety  is  able  to  extract  from  the  nongovernmental  population  in 
its  entirety.  Contrasted  with  the  almost  complete  absence  of  uni- 
versal and  direct  taxation  in  the  city  states  of  ancient  Greece  and 
in  Rome,  and  compared  with  the  pathetically  feeble  fiscal  policy 
of  feudal  Europe,  the  scope  and  strength  of  the  hydraulic  system 
of  taxation  is  striking. 

4.  Confiscation 

The  hydraulic  state,  which  asserts  its  fiscal  power  so  effectively  in 
the  countryside,  pursues  a  similar  policy  also  toward  artisans,  mer- 
chants, and  other  owners  of  mobile  property  not  protected  by 
special  prerogatives.  The  fact  is  so  obvious  that  in  the  present 
context  we  shall  refrain  from  discussing  the  methods  invoked  for 
taxing  handicraft  and  commerce.  However,  another  acquisitive  fea- 
ture of  hydraulic  statecraft  does  deserve  comment:  the  seizure  of 
conspicuous  property  by  outright  confiscation. 

An  association  of  free  men  may  ask  of  itself  whatever  sacrifices 
it  holds  necessary  for  the  common  weal;  and  occasionally  it  may 

CHAPTER    3,    C  73 

employ  the  weapon  of  confiscation  against  criminals  or  excessively 
powerful  men/  But  arbitrary  confiscation  as  a  general  policy  is 
characteristic  of  a  genuinely  absolutist  regime.  Having  established 
unrestricted  fiscal  claims,  such  a  regime  can  modify  them  at  will.  In 
addition,  it  can  encroach  on  private  property  even  after  all  regular 
and  irregular  taxes  have  been  paid. 

Under  simpler  conditions  of  power  and  class,  there  is  little  or  no 
large  independent  business  property;  and  whatever  confiscation 
occurs  essentially  hits  members  of  the  ruling  group.  Under  more 
differentiated  conditions,  business  wealth  becomes  a  favorite  target, 
but  attacks  on  the  property  of  officials  do  not  cease. 

Large  landed  property  is  by  no  means  immune  to  confiscation.  But 
it  is  more  readily  accessible  to  taxation  than  are  precious  metals,  jew- 
els, or  money,  which  can  be  hidden  with  relative  ease  and  which 
are  indeed  carefully  hidden  by  all  except  the  most  powerful  members 
of  the  apparatus  government.  The  confiscatory  measures  of  the 
hydraulic  state  therefore  hit  with  particular  harshness  the  owners 
of  mobile — and  concealed — property. 

The  declared  reasons  for  confiscating  the  property  of  officials  and 
other  members  of  the  ruling  class  are  almost  invariably  political 
or  administrative.  The  political  reasons  include  diplomatic  blunders, 
conspiracy,  and  treason;  the  administrative,  mismanagement  and  fis- 
cal irregularities.  Serious  crimes  frequently  lead  to  the  wrongdoer's 
complete  political  and  economic  ruin;  lesser  ones  to  temporary  or 
permanent  demotion  and  total  or  partial  confiscation.  Businessmen 
are  primarily  prosecuted  for  tax  evasion,  but  they  too  may  become 
involved  in  a  political  intrigue.  In  the  first  instance  they  may  be 
partially  expropriated;  in  the  second,  they  may  pay  with  their  entire 
fortune  and  with  their  life. 

Within  the  ruling  class,  conspiracies  to  replace  the  ruler  or  an 
important  dignitary  occur  periodically,  and  particularly  during  times 
of  insecurity  and  crisis.  Wanton  persecutions  are  equally  frequent. 
A  power  center  which  is  both  accuser  and  judge  may  declare  any 
activity  criminal,  whatever  the  facts.  Manufactured  evidence  appears 
with  great  regularity;  and  legally  disguised  political  purges  are 
undertaken  whenever  the  masters  of  the  state  apparatus  deem  them 

The  danger  of  being  persecuted  is  augmented  by  the  fact  that 
under  conditions  of  autocratic  power  the  majority  of  all  officials 
and  the  bulk  of  all  wealthy  businessmen  tend  to  commit  acts  that, 

/.  For  confiscation  in  ancient  Greece,  see  Busolt,  GS,  II:  nogff.  The  confiscations 
during  the  last  phase  of  republican  Rome  reflect  the  rise  of  uncontrolled  Orientally 
despotic  power  (see  below,  Chap.  6). 


legally  speaking,  are  crimes,  or  may  be  so  interpreted.  At  the  court 
and/or  in  the  administration  there  are  always  individuals  or  groups 
that  try  to  promote  their  own  interests  by  winning  the  favor  of  the 
ruler  or  other  persons  of  high  rank.  The  sovereign  and  his  close 
relatives  or  friends,  the  chancellor  (vizier)  or  other  prominent  mem- 
bers of  the  bureaucracy  are  all  potential  targets  of  political  intrigues. 
And  in  an  atmosphere  of  absolutist  power,  secrecy  and  quasicon- 
spiratorial  methods  appear  perfectly  normal.  This  being  the  case,  the 
dominant  center  has  little  difficulty  in  pinning  the  label  of  conspiracy 
on  whomever  it  wishes  to  destroy. 

To  be  sure,  many  persons  who  engage  in  such  intrigues  are  never 
brought  to  book;  and  many  others  escape  with  minor  bruises.  In 
periods  of  prosperity  and  calm  this  is  by  no  means  rare.  But 
politically  phrased  accusations  are  an  essential  feature  of  the  abso- 
lutist order;  and  any  unusual  tension  may  spell  the  doom  of  many 
individuals  or  groups. 

In  the  administrative  sphere  the  borderline  is  similarly  fluid,  and 
the  possibilities  of  disaster  are  similarly  great.  Many  officials  have 
to  make  decisions  regarding  goods  or  money;  and  in  the  absence  of 
rational  methods  of  procedure  and  supervision,  deviations  from 
prescribed  standards  are  as  usual  as  the  attempts  to  increase  personal 
income  are  alluring.  The  classic  of  Hindu  statecraft  describes  the 
almost  unlimited  opportunities  for  embezzlement  offered  by  such 
conditions.  In  what  amounts  to  a  veritable  catalogue,  the  Arthashas- 
tra  mentions  some  forty  ways  in  which  government  funds  may  be 
diverted.15  The  author  of  the  Arthashastra  doubts  whether  any  per- 
son can  resist  so  many  tempting  opportunities.  "Just  as  it  is  im- 
possible not  to  taste  the  honey  or  the  poison  that  finds  itself  at  the 
tip  of  the  tongue,  so  it  is  impossible  for  a  government  servant  not 
to  eat  up,  at  least,  a  bit  of  the  king's  revenue."  16 

The  wealthy  businessman  is  equally  vulnerable.  Taxation  being 
the  prerogative  of  a  government  whose  declared  demands  are  heavy 
and  whose  agents  tend  to  go  beyond  the  official  demands,  the  private 
men  of  property  seek  to  protect  themselves  as  best  they  can.  They 
hide  their  treasure  in  the  ground.  They  entrust  it  to  friends.  They 
send  it  abroad.*  In  brief,  they  are  driven  to  commit  acts  which  make 
most  of  them  potential  fiscal  criminals. 

In  many  instances  their  efforts  are  successful,  particularly  when 
they  are  buttressed  by  well-placed  bribes.  But  a  technical  error  or  a 

g.  In  classical  India  "capital  wealth  was  hoarded,  either  in  the  house — in  large 
mansions  over  the  entrance  passage  .  .  .  under  the  ground,  in  brazen  jars  under  the 
river  bank,  or  deposited  with  a  friend"  (C.  A.  F.  Rhys-Davids,  1922:  219). 

CHAPTER    3,    C  75 

change  in  the  bureaucratic  personnel  may  shatter  the  uneasy  balance; 
and  warranted  accusations  combined  with  trumped-up  charges  will 
initiate  actions  that  may  ruin  the  accused  businessman  economically, 
and  perhaps  also  physically. 

In  Pharaonic  Egypt  officials  were  the  essential  targets  of  confis- 
catory actions.  Members  of  the  bureaucracy  who  were  found  guilty 
of  a  major  crime  were  severely  punished.  A  demotion  usually  in- 
volved the  loss  of  revenue  and  property,  including  whatever  fields 
the  culprit  possessed  either  in  the  form  of  office  land  or  as  a  sine- 
cure.17 At  the  beginning  of  a  new  dynasty  the  new  ruler  resorted 
to  such  measures  to  consolidate  his  position.18 

Disobedience  to  the  Pharaoh,  even  when  conspiracy  was  not  in- 
volved, might  be  severely  punished.  A  decree  of  the  Fifth  Dynasty 
threatened  "any  official  or  royal  intimate  or  agricultural  officer," 
who  disregarded  a  certain  royal  order,  with  the  confiscation  of  his 
"house,  fields,  people,  and  everything  in  his  possession."  The  cul- 
prit himself  was  to  be  reduced  to  the  status  of  a  corvee  laborer.19 

The  history  of  Chinese  bureaucracy  abounds  with  incidents  of 
demotion  and  confiscation.  When  the  Ch'ing  emperor,  Kao-tsung 
(reign-title  Ch'ien-lung)  died,  his  all-powerful  minister,  Ho  Shen,  was 
immediately  arrested  and  "although  out  of  respect  to  the  memory 
of  his  master  he  was  permitted  to  take  his  own  life,  his  huge 
accumulation  of  silver,  gold,  precious  stones,  and  other  forms  of 
wealth,  was  confiscated."  20 

The  expropriation  of  officials  for  administrative  and  fiscal  offenses 
demonstrates  the  vulnerability  of  almost  all  officials.  Again  the 
Arthashdstra  neatly  formulates  the  crux  of  the  matter.  Since  every 
official  who  deals  with  the  king's  revenue  is  inevitably  tempted  to 
embezzle,  the  government  must  use  skilled  spies  21  and  informers  22 
to  aid  in  the  recovery  of  the  state's  property.  Crude  criteria  deter- 
mine whether  an  official  is  guilty  or  not.  Whoever  causes  a  reduction 
of  the  revenue  "eats  the  king's  wealth."  23  Whoever  is  seen  enjoy- 
ing the  king's  possessions  is  guilty.24  Whoever  lives  in  a  miserly  way 
while  accumulating  and  hoarding  wealth  is  guilty.25  The  king  may 
"squeeze  them  after  they  have  drunk  themselves  fat,  he  may  transfer 
them  from  one  job  to  another  so  that  they  do  not  devour  his  property 
or  that  they  may  vomit  up  what  they  devoured."  26 

Of  course,  in  all  these  matters  discrimination  is  of  the  essence. 
The  king  should  treat  petty  crimes  indulgently.27  And  he  should 
also  be  lenient  when  circumstances  permit.  Do  not  prosecute  even 
for  a  serious  crime,  if  the  offender  "has  the  support  of  a  strong 
party";   but  "he  who  has  no  such  support  shall  be  caught  hold 


o£"  and,  the  commentary  adds,  "be  deprived  of  his  property."  28 
These  bald  maxims  do  not  even  bother  with  an  appearance  of 

Confiscation  may  be  partial  or  total;  and  it  may  be  invoked  during 
the  victim's  lifetime  or  after  his  death.  Post-mortem  expropriation 
is  frequently  made  easy  by  the  fact  that  the  deceased's  family  is  no 
longer  influential.  In  934  the  Abbassid  caliph  seized  the  entire 
property  of  his  deceased  vizier,  al-Muhallabi,  squeezing  money  even 
from  his  servants,  grooms,  and  sailors.29  After  the  death  of  the 
mighty  North  Persian  vizier,  the  as-Sahib,  "his  house  was  surrounded 
at  once;  the  ruler  searched  it,  found  a  bag  with  receipts  for  over 
150,000  dinars,  which  had  been  deposited  out  of  town.  They  were 
cashed  without  delay,  and  everything  contained  in  the  house  and 
treasure  room  was  brought  into  the  palace."  30  After  the  death  of 
the  great  general,  Bejkem,  in  941,  the  caliph  "sent  immediately  to 
the  house,  dug  everywhere,  and  gathered  two  millions  of  gold  and 
silver.  Eventually  he  ordered  the  earth  in  the  house  to  be  washed, 
and  this  yielded  a  further  35,000  dirhem,"  but  it  is  doubtful  whether 
he  found  the  chests  of  money  that  Bejkem  had  buried  in  the  desert.31 

Persons  suspected  of  having  defrauded  the  government  suffered 
all  manner  of  mistreatment.  The  caliph  al-Qadir  (991-1031)  had  his 
predecessor's  mother  severely  tortured.  After  her  resistance  was 
broken,  she  handed  over  her  ready  cash  as  well  as  the  proceeds  from 
the  sale  of  her  land.32 

The  confiscation  of  business  fortunes  follows  a  similar  pattern.  As 
stated  above,  any  prosecution  could  be  justified  politically;  and 
the  international  connections  of  the  big  merchants  made  political 
accusation  easy.  But  in  the  majority  of  cases  the  offense  was  openly 
declared  to  be  fiscal  in  nature.  Frequently  the  line  between  a  special 
tax  (for  a  military  campaign  or  other  emergencies)  and  partial  con- 
fiscation is  hard  to  draw;  but  whatever  the  pretext,  the  consequences 
for  the  victim  could  be  grim.  The  Arthashastra  encourages  the  king 
to  enlarge  his  treasure  by  demanding  money  from  rich  persons 
according  to  the  amount  of  their  property.33  He  may  squeeze  such 
persons  "vigorously,  giving  them  no  chance  to  slip  away.  For  they 
may  bring  forth  what  others  hold  (for  them),  and  sell  it."  3* 

In  the  case  of  political  accusation,  spies  and  agents  could  be  de- 
pended upon  to  supply  the  required  evidence.  A  middle-class 
"traitor"  might  be  framed  in  several  ways.  An  agent  could  commit 
a  murder  on  a  businessman's  doorstep.  The  owner  could  then  be 
arrested  and  his  goods  and  money  appropriated.36  Or  an  agent  could 
smuggle  counterfeit  money,  tools  for  counterfeiting,  or  poison  into 

CHAPTER    3,    C  77 

the  house  of  the  potential  victim,  or  plant  a  sign  of  allegiance  to 
some  other  king  on  his  property,  or  produce  a  "letter"  from  an 
enemy  of  the  state.36  Theoretically  these  measures  were  only  to 
be  invoked  when  the  victim  was  known  to  be  wicked;  ST  but  along 
with  other  devices  they  are  recommended  in  a  chapter  discussing 
ways  for  replenishing  the  treasury.  History  shows  how  ready  the 
average  despot  was  to  use  them  for  precisely  this  purpose.  "Just  as 
fruits  are  gathered  from  a  garden  as  often  as  they  become  ripe,  so 
revenue  shall  be  collected  as  often  as  it  becomes  ripe.  Collection 
of  revenue  or  of  fruits,  when  unripe,  shall  never  be  carried  on, 
lest  their  source  may  be  injured,  causing  immense  trouble."  38 

In  the  Islamic  world  the  death  of  a  wealthy  man  provided  the 
government  with  untold  opportunities  for  decimating  or  liquidating 
his  possessions.  "Woe  to  him,"  wails  an  Arab  text  of  the  gth  century, 
"whose  father  died  rich!  For  a  long  time  he  was  kept  a  prisoner 
in  the  house  of  misfortune,  and  he  [the  unjust  official]  said  [to  the 
son]:  'Who  knows  that  you  are  his  son?'  And  if  he  said:  'My  neighbor 
and  whoever  knows  me,'  then  they  tore  his  mustache  until  he  grew 
weak.  And  they  beat  and  kicked  him  generously.  And  he  stayed 
in  closest  captivity  until  he  threw  the  purse  before  them."  39  During 
certain  periods  of  the  Abassid  caliphate,  "the  death  of  a  rich  private 
person  was  a  catastrophe  for  his  whole  circle,  his  bankers  and  friends 
went  into  hiding,  objection  was  raised  against  the  government's 
inspecting  the  testament  .  .  .  and  eventually  the  family  bought 
itself  off  with  a  major  payment."  40 

To  be  sure,  violence  and  plunder  are  not  the  monopoly  of  any 
society.  But  the  hydraulic  mode  of  confiscation  differs  in  quality 
and  dimension  from  the  acts  of  arbitrary  violence  committed  in 
other  higher  agrarian  civilizations.  In  classical  Greece  it  was  not  an 
overwhelmingly  strong  government  but  the  community  of  propertied 
and  (later  also)  propertyless  citizens  who  checked  a  potentially  over- 
powerful  leader  by  sending  him  into  exile  and  seizing  his  wealth. 
In  Medieval  Europe  the  rulers  had  only  a  small  staff  of  officials,  so 
small  a  staff  indeed  that  intrabureaucratic  struggles  of  the  Oriental 
kind  had  little  chance  to  develop.  The  conflicts  between  the  feudal 
centers  of  power  were  many  and  often  violent;  but  the  rival  forces 
fought  it  out  more  often  on  the  battlefield  than  in  camera.  And 
those  who  wished  to  destroy  their  enemies  by  tricks  preferred  the 
ambush  to  the  legal  frame-up.  The  opportunities  for  using  the 
first  device  were  as  numerous  as  those  for  using  the  second  were 

As  to  the  fate  of  businessmen,  men  of  property  in  classical  Greece 


were  not  plagued  by  heavy  direct  taxes;  and  their  medieval  counter- 
parts were  extremely  well  protected  against  the  fiscal  claims  of 
territorial  or  national  overlords.  Like  the  former,  the  burghers  of 
the  semi-independent  guild  cities  were  in  no  permanent  danger 
of  being  arrested,  questioned,  tortured,  or  expropriated  by  the 
officials  of  a  centralized  autocracy.  True,  medieval  trade  caravans 
were  held  up  and  robbed  as  they  moved  from  town  to  town.  But 
within  the  confines  of  their  walled  cities  the  artisans  and  merchants 
enjoyed  reasonable  safety  of  person  and  possession. 

The  rulers  of  European  absolutism  schemed  as  ruthlessly  and 
killed  as  mercilessly  as  did  their  Eastern  confreres.  However,  their 
power  to  persecute  and  appropriate  was  limited  by  the  landed  nobles, 
the  Church,  and  the  cities,  whose  autonomy  the  autocratic  overlords 
could  restrict,  but  not  destroy.  In  addition  to  this,  the  representa- 
tives of  the  new  central  governments  saw  definite  advantages  in 
developing  the  newly  rising  capitalistic  forms  of  mobile  property. 
Emerging  from  an  agrarian  order,  which  they  had  never  controlled 
or  exploited  in  the  hydraulic  way,  the  Western  autocrats  readily 
protected  the  incipient  commercial  and  industrial  capitalists,  whose 
increasing  prosperity  increasingly  benefited  their  protectors. 

In  contrast,  the  masters  of  hydraulic  society  spun  their  fiscal  web 
firmly  over  their  country's  agrarian  economy.  And  they  were  under 
no  pressure  to  favor  the  urban  capitalists  as  did  the  postfeudal 
Western  rulers.  At  best,  they  treated  what  capitalist  enterprise  there 
was  like  a  useful  garden.  At  worst,  they  clipped  and  stripped  the 
bushes  of  capital-based  business  to  the  stalk. 


1.  Four  Ways  of  Weakening  Private  Property 

In  a  number  of  stratified  civilizations  the  representatives  of  private 
property  and  enterprise  were  sufficiently  strong  to  check  the  power 
of  the  state.  Under  hydraulic  conditions  the  state  restricted  the  de- 
velopment of  private  property  through  fiscal,  judicial,  legal,  and 
political  measures. 

In  the  preceding  pages  we  have  discussed  the  pertinent  fiscal  and 
judicial  methods  (taxes,  frame-ups,  and  confiscations).  Before  turning 
to  the  political  aspect  of  the  matter  we  must  first  deal  with  a  legal 
institution  which,  perhaps  more  than  any  other,  has  caused  the 
periodic  fragmentation  of  private  property:  the  hydraulic  (Oriental) 
laws  of  inheritance. 

CHAPTER    3,    D  ^g 

2.  Hydraulic  Laws  of  Inheritance:  the  Principle 

Throughout  the  hydraulic  world  the  bulk  of  a  deceased  person's 
property  is  transferred  not  in  accordance  with  his  will  but  in 
accordance  with  customary  or  written  laws.  These  laws  prescribe  an 
equal,  or  approximately  equal,  division  of  property  among  the  heirs, 
most  frequently  the  sons  and  other  close  male  relatives.  Among 
the  sons,  the  eldest  often  has  special  duties  to  fulfill.  He  must  care 
for  his  mother  and  his  younger  siblings;  and  he  may  be  primarily 
responsible  for  the  religious  obligations  of  the  family.  The  laws  take 
all  this  into  account.  But  their  modification  does  not  upset  the  basic 
effect:  the  parceling  out  of  a  deceased  person's  estate  among  his 

3.  The  Application 

In  Pharaonic  Egypt  the  eldest  son,  who  had  important  ceremonial 
tasks,  received  a  larger  share  of  his  father's  estate.  But  the  remaining 
children  also  could  claim  a  legally  prescribed  share  of  the  total.1 

The  principle  of  more  or  less  even  division  is  clearly  stated  in  the 
Babylonian  code.  A  present  made  by  a  father  during  his  lifetime  to 
the  first-born  is  not  included  in  the  final  settlement,  but  "otherwise 
they  [the  sons]  shall  share  equally  in  the  goods  of  the  paternal 
estate."  2  Assyrian  law  is  more  complicated.  Again  the  eldest  son  has 
an  advantage,  but  all  other  brothers  are  entitled  to  their  share.8 

In  India  the  eldest  son's  originally  privileged  position  was  grad- 
ually reduced,  until  the  difference  between  him  and  other  heirs 
virtually  disappeared.4  In  the  Islamic  world  inheritance  was  com- 
plicated by  a  number  of  factors,  among  them  the  freedom  to  will  up 
to  one-third  of  an  estate.0  But  the  system  of  "Koranic  heirs"  is 
definitely  fragmenting:  it  strictly  prescribes  division  among  several 
persons.5  The  last  imperial  code  of  China  reasserts  what  seems  to  have 
been  regular  practice  during  the  whole  period  of  "developed"  pri- 
vate property.  A  family's  possessions  must  be  divided  equally  among 
all  sons.  Failure  to  comply  was  punishable  by  up  to  one  hundred 
blows  with  a  heavy  stick.6 

In  Inca  Peru  the  bulk  of  all  land  was  regulated  by  the  state  and 
its  local  agencies.  Some  grants  made  to  relatives  of  the  ruler  or 
meritorious  military  or  civil  officials  might  be  transferred  heredi- 
tarily; but  the  usufruct  from  the  inherited  land  was  subject  to  equal 

a.  The  Koran  prescribes  a  highly  intricate  division  of  heritable  property  (Koran  4. 


division.7  In  Aztec  Mexico  the  bulk  of  all  land  was  occupied  by 
village  communities  and  thus  barred  from  full  transfer  at  the  will 
of  the  possessor.  Some  land,  privately  held  by  members  of  the  ruling 
group,  was  after  the  holder's  death  divided  among  his  heirs.8 

4.  The  Effect 

a.  On  Regulated  Villages 

A  law  of  inheritance  which  prescribes  a  periodic  division  of  private 
property  affects  different  groups  in  hydraulic  society  differently. 
Peasants  who  live  in  regulated  village  communities  may  divide  the 
movable  property  of  a  deceased  family  head,  but  not  his  fields.  These 
must  be  kept  intact  or,  from  time  to  time,  reassigned  according  to 
the  recognized  prerogatives  or  needs  of  the  members  of  the  com- 

b.  On  Holders  of  Small  Private  Property 

Entirely  new  problems  arise  when  the  peasants  own  their  land 
privately  and  freely.  Scarcity  of  food  may  reduce  the  number  of 
potential  heirs,  and  this  is  an  important  demographic  factor  in  all 
hydraulic  societies.  However,  the  will  to  live  often  outwits  want;  and 
despite  periodic  or  perpetual  shortages,  the  population  tends  to 
increase.  This  inevitably  means  smaller  farms,  more  toil,  more 
hardship,  and,  frequently,  flight,  banditry,  and  rebellion. 

Demographic  pressures  are  certainly  not  lacking  in  regulated 
villages.  But  they  are  particularly  serious  where  private  landed 
property  is  the  rule.  For  in  such  areas  the  impoverishment  of  the 
economically  weaker  elements  is  not  counterbalanced,  or  retarded, 
by  the  corporate  economy  of  the  village,  which  prevents  both  in- 
dividual economic  advance  and  collapse. 

c.  On  Holders  of  Large  Private  Property 

Among  the  wealthy  property  owners  another  factor  of  hydraulic 
demography  becomes  important:  polygamy.  In  hydraulic  civiliza- 
tions rich  persons  usually  have  several  wives;  and  the  greater  their 
fortune,  the  larger  their  harem  is  apt  to  be.  The  possibility  of  having 
several  sons  increases  proportionately.  But  several  sons  mean  several 
heirs;  and  several  heirs  mean  a  quicker  reduction  of  the  original 
property  through  equal  inheritance. 

Commenting  on  the  dynamics  of  Chinese  traditional  society,  two 
modern  social  scientists,  Fei  and  Chang,  find  it  "all  too  true"  that 

CHAPTER    3,    D  8l 

in  this  society  "land  breeds  no  land."  Why?  "The  basic  truth  is  that 
enrichment  through  exploitation  of  land,  using  the  traditional 
technology,  is  not  a  practical  method  of  accumulating  wealth." 
Landed  wealth  tends  to  shrink  rather  than  to  grow;  and  this  essen- 
tially because  of  the  law  of  inheritance;  "so  long  as  the  customary 
principle  of  equal  inheritance  among  siblings  exists,  time  is  a  strong 
disintegrative  force  in  landholding."  9 

The  Islamic  law  of  inheritance  has  a  similarly  disintegrative  effect. 
Wherever  it  prevails,  it  "must  in  the  long  run  lead  to  the  inevitable 
parceling  out  even  of  the  largest  property.  .  .  ." 10  The  land  grants 
in  the  Inca  empire  apparently  fared  no  better.  After  a  few  genera- 
tions the  revenue  received  by  individual  heirs  might  shrink  to  in- 

5.  Pertinent  Western  Developments 

a.  The  Democratic  City  States  of  Ancient  Greece 

The  fragmentation  of  landed  property  through  more  or  less  equal 
inheritance  is  certainly  a  significant  institution.  But  are  we  justified 
in  considering  it  characteristic  primarily  for  hydraulic  civilizations? 
"The  rule  of  dividing  up  an  estate  on  succession"  also  operated  in 
the  city  states  of  classical  Greece.  Consistently  applied,  it  "split  up 
the  land  without  ceasing."  12  In  the  4th  century  "apart  from  one 
exceptional  case,  the  largest  property  which  Attica  could  show  .  .  . 
measured  300  plethra  or  64  acres."  Glotz  adds:  "This  state  of  things 
was  common  to  the  democratic  cities."  1S 

b.  The  United  States  after  the  War  of  Independence 

And  then  there  is  the  fight  against  entail  and  primogeniture  in  the 
early  days  of  the  United  States.  During  and  immediately  after  the 
American  Revolution  the  spokesmen  of  the  young  republic  vigor- 
ously attacked  the  perpetuities,  which  were  correctly  described  as 
remnants  of  Europe's  feudal  tradition.  Once  the  law  of  entail  was 
abolished,  the  colossal  aristocratic  landholdings  quickly  dissolved. 
"By  about  the  year  1830  most  of  the  great  estates  of  America  had 
vanished."  14 

c.  A  Spectacular  Contrast:  the  Strength  of  Landed  Property 
in  Late  Feudal  and  Postfeudal  Europe 

Similar  attempts  at  breaking  the  power  of  large  landed  property 
were  made  in  Europe  after  the  close  of  the  feudal  period.  The 


governments  of  the  new  territorial  and  national  states  attacked 
entail  and  primogeniture  through  a  variety  of  measures,  statutory 
enactments  prevailing  on  the  continent  and  judicial  reforms  in 
England.15  Resourceful  protagonists  of  absolutism  lent  the  struggle 
impetus  and  color.  But  in  the  leading  countries  of  Western  and 
Central  Europe  the  governments  were  unable  for  a  long  time  to 
abolish  the  perpetuation  of  big  property.  In  France  this  institution 
persisted  intact  until  the  Revolution,  and  in  a  modified  form  until 
1849.  In  England  and  Germany  it  was  discarded  only  in  the  20th 

6.  Different  Social  Forces  Opposed  to 
Proprietary  Perpetuities 

a.  Small  and  Mobile  Property 

Manifestly,  the  perpetuation  of  large  landed  property  may  be 
opposed  by  different  social  forces.  The  Greek  legislators,  who,  ac- 
cording to  Aristotle,17  recognized  the  influence  of  the  equalization 
of  property  on  political  society,  very  possibly  did  not  identify  them- 
selves with  one  particular  social  group  or  class.  But  their  efforts 
benefited  smaller  rural  property 18  as  well  as  the  new  forms  of 
mobile  (urban)  property  and  enterprise.  It  stands  to  reason  that 
the  groups  which  profited  from  a  weakening  of  big  landed  property 
accomplished  this  result  through  methods  that  became  increasingly 
effective  as  the  city  states  became  increasingly  democratized. 

In  the  young  United  States  Jefferson  fought  for  the  abolishment  of 
entail  and  primogeniture  as  a  necessary  step  toward  the  elimination 
of  "feudal  and  unnatural  distinctions."  19  And  he  based  his  policy  on 
a  philosophy  which  distrusted  commerce  and  industry  as  much  as  it 
trusted  the  independent  landowning  farmers.  Middle  and  small  rural 
property  may  not  have  been  directly  represented  among  those  who 
wrote  the  Constitution; 20  but  its  influence  was  nevertheless  great. 
The  Revolution,  which  "was  started  by  protesting  merchants  and 
rioting  mechanics,"  was  actually  "carried  to  its  bitter  end  by  the 
bayonets  of  fighting  farmers."  " 

And  not  only  this.  A  few  decades  after  the  Revolution  the  agri- 
cultural frontier  prevailed  so  effectively  over  the  commercial  and 
banking  interests  of  the  coastal  towns  that  it  "brought  about  the 
declaration  of  hostilities  against  England  in  1812."  M  It  therefore 
seems  legitimate  to  claim  that  it  was  a  combination  of  independent 
rural  (farming)  and  mobile  urban  property  that  brought  about  the 
downfall  of  the  feudal  system  of  entail  and  primogeniture  in  the 
United  States. 

CHAPTER    3,    D  83 

b.  The  States  of  Feudal  and  Postfeudal  Europe 

The  consolidation  of  feudal  and  postfeudal  landed  property  in  Eu- 
rope was  challenged  by  a  very  different  force.  At  the  height  of  the 
conflict  the  attack  was  conducted  by  the  representatives  of  the  ab- 
solutist state;  and  the  external  resemblance  to  the  Oriental  version 
of  the  struggle  makes  it  all  the  more  necessary  to  understand  the 
exact  nature  of  what  happened  in  the  West. 

Why  were  the  feudal  lords  of  Europe  able  to  buttress  their  landed 
property  to  such  an  extraordinary  degree?  Because,  as  indicated 
above,  in  the  fragmented  society  of  Medieval  Europe  the  national 
and  territorial  rulers  lacked  the  means  to  prevent  it.  Of  course,  the 
sovereign,  the  most  powerful  master  of  land  and  men,  did  exercise  a 
certain  public  authority.23  He  claimed  certain  military  services  from 
his  seigneurs,  vassals,  or  lords;  he  had  certain  supreme  judicial  func- 
tions; he  was  expected  to  handle  the  foreign  relations  of  his  country; 
and  his  authority  was  strengthened  by  the  fact  that  the  bulk  of  his 
vassals  held  their  fiefs  only  as  long  as  they  fulfilled  the  obligations 
mentioned  in  the  investiture.  Thus  the  lords  were  originally  posses- 
sors rather  than  owners  of  their  lands;  and  they  remained  so,  at  least 
theoretically,  even  after  tenure  became  hereditary. 

This  state  of  affairs  has  been  frequently  described.  With  certain 
differences — which  became  especially  important  in  such  countries  as 
post-Conquest  England — it  prevailed  in  the  greater  part  of  Western 
and  Central  Europe  during  the  formative  period  of  feudalism.  How- 
ever, the  conventional  picture  stresses  much  more  strongly  the  rela- 
tion between  the  feudal  lord  and  his  ruler  than  the  relation  between 
the  various  lords.  From  the  point  of  view  of  proprietary  develop- 
ment, the  second  is  pivotal. 

No  matter  whether  the  baron  held  his  fief  temporarily  or  heredi- 
tarily, his  life  was  centered  in  his  own  castle  and  not  at  the  royal 
court;  it  was  his  detached  position  that  determined  his  personal  and 
social  contacts.  The  king  might  claim  the  military  services  of  his  vas- 
sal for  some  few  weeks;  but  beyond  this  contractually  limited  period 
— which  might  be  extended  if  proper  payments  were  offered 2* — he 
was  unable  to  control  his  movements.  The  baron  or  knight  was  free 
to  use  his  soldiers  for  private  feuds.  He  was  free  to  engage  in  the 
chase,  in  tournaments,  and  in  expeditions  of  various  kinds.  And  most 
important,  he  was  free  to  meet  with  lordly  neighbors  who,  like  him- 
self, were  eager  to  promote  their  joint  interests. 

The  atomized  character  of  the  political  order  stimulated  the  asso- 
ciation of  the  local  and  regional  vassals,  who  singly  were  no  match 
for  the  sovereign  but  who  together  might  successfully  oppose  him.  In 


the  race  between  the  growth  of  lordly  (and  burgher)  power  on  the 
one  hand  and  royal  power  on  the  other,  the  rising  central  govern- 
ments found  themselves  confronted  not  by  the  scattered  feudal  and 
urban  forces  of  the  early  days  but  by  organized  estates  capable  of 
defending  their  economic  as  well  as  their  social  rights. 

In  England  as  early  as  the  11th  century  the  king's  tenants-in-chief 
were  known  as  berones;  originally  the  term  connoted  a  group  rather 
than  an  individual:  "that  word  is  not  found  in  the  singular."  25  But 
it  was  only  when  the  government  tried  to  check  their  independence 
that  the  barons  felt  the  need  for  united  action.  The  final  section  of 
the  Magna  Carta  has  been  correctly  called  "the  first  royal  recogni- 
tion of  the  baronial  right  collectively  to  coerce  the  king  by  force."  2G 
Shortly  afterward,  "totius  Angliae  nobilitas  .  .  .  took  an  oath  each 
to  the  other  that  they  would  give  the  king  no  answer  except  a  com- 
munis responsio."  27  It  was  in  the  very  century  in  which  the  English 
lords  incorporated  themselves  as  an  estate  that  they  laid  the  founda- 
tions for  the  perpetuation  of  their  lands  by  entail  and  primogeni- 

On  the  continent  the  timetable  and  many  other  details  differed. 
But  the  over-all  trend  was  the  same.  Applying  to  their  fiefs  the  prin- 
ciple of  indivisibility — which,  with  the  abandonment  of  the  feudal 
form  of  military  service,  had  lost  its  original  meaning — the  noble 
landholders  consolidated  their  property  in  Spain,  Italy,  France,  and 

It  is  worth  noting  that  the  nobles,  who  kept  the  late  feudal  and 
postfeudal  societies  balanced,  owed  their  proprietary  success  partly 
to  the  attitude  of  the  absolutist  bureaucracy.  Among  the  aristocratic 
members  of  this  bureaucracy  not  a  few  felt  a  deep  affinity  for  the 
landed  gentry,  to  which  they  were  linked  by  many  ties.  Torn  by  con- 
flicting proprietary  and  bureaucratic  interests,  the  representatives  of 
Western  absolutism  did  not  press  to  the  extreme  their  organized  re- 
sistance against  the  privileged  big  landowners.  In  consequence,  there 
emerged  out  of  the  womb  of  feudal  society  one  of  the  strongest  forms 
of  private  property  known  to  mankind. 

c.  Hydraulic  Absolutism  Succeeded  Where  the  States  of 
Occidental  Feudalism  and  Absolutism  Failed 

In  late  feudal  and  postfeudal  Europe  the  state  recognized  a  system 
of  inheritance  for  the  landed  nobles  which  favored  one  son  at  the 
expense  of  all  others.  And  in  the  modern  Western  world  the  state 
by  and  large  permitted  the  individual  to  dispose  over  his  property  at 
will.  The  hydraulic  state  gave  no  equivalent  freedom  of  decision 
either  to  holders  of  mobile  property  or  to  the  landowners.  Its  laws  of 

CHAPTER    3,    D  85 

inheritance  insisted  upon  a  more  or  less  equal  division  of  the  de- 
ceased's estate,  and  thereby  upon  a  periodic  fragmentation  of  prop- 

Among  primitive  peoples  living  on  an  extractive  economy  or  on 
crude  agriculture,  the  pattern  of  inheritance  apparently  varied 
greatly;  30  thus  it  is  unlikely  that  the  predecessors  of  hydraulic  soci- 
ety in  their  majority  maintained  a  one-heir  system  of  inheritance 
which  the  hydraulic  development  had  to  destroy.  In  some  cases,  the 
germs  of  a  single-heir  system  may  have  had  to  be  eradicated.  Where 
no  such  germs  existed,  the  hydraulic  rulers  made  sure  that  efforts  to 
undermine  the  traditional  distributive  pattern  could  get  nowhere. 
They  achieved  their  aim  by  a  multiplicity  of  methods,  among  which 
the  standardization  of  the  fragmenting  law  of  inheritance  was  only 
the  most  prominent  one. 

In  the  later  feudal  and  postleudal  societies  of  the  West  the  landed 
nobles  were  able  to  create  the  one-sided  system  of  inheritance  called 
entail  and  primogeniture  primarily  because  they  were  armed  and 
because  they  were  nationally  and  politically  organized.  In  hydraulic 
society  the  representatives  of  private  property  lacked  the  strength  to 
establish  similarly  consolidated  and  strong  forms  of  property,  first 
because  the  governmental  monopoly  of  armed  action  prevented  the 
property  holders  from  maintaining  independent  military  forces,  and 
second  because  the  governmental  network  of  organization  (corvee, 
state  post  and  intelligence,  integrated  army,  and  universal  taxation) 
prevented  the  property  holders  from  protecting  their  interests  by 
means  of  an  effective  national  organization. 

In  this  setting  the  struggle  for  or  against  the  divisibility  of  prop- 
erty did  not  become  a  clear-cut  political  issue  as  it  did  in  ancient 
Greece,  absolutist  Europe,  or  the  United  States.  And  in  contrast  to 
the  areas  of  open  conflict  the  hydraulic  world  did  not  favor  political 
arguments  which  justified — or  challenged — the  fragmenting  law  of 

7.  The  Organizational  Impotence  of  Hydraulic 
Property  Holders 

As  an  armed  and  ubiquitously  organized  force,  the  hydraulic  regime 
prevailed  in  the  strategic  seats  of  mobile  property,  the  cities,  as  well 
as  in  the  main  sphere  of  immobile  property,  the  countryside.  Its 
cities  were  administrative  and  military  footholds  of  the  government; 
and  the  artisans  and  merchants  had  no  opportunity  to  become  seri- 
ous political  rivals.  Their  professional  associations  need  not  have 
been  directly  attached  to  the  state,  but  they  certainly  failed  to  create 
strong  and  independent  centers  of  corporate  burgher  power  such  as 
arose  in  many  parts  of  Medieval  Europe. 


The  countryside  fared  no  better.  The  owners  of  land  were  either 
wealthy  businessmen  and  as  limited  in  the  scope  of  their  organiza- 
tion as  were  the  representatives  of  mobile  property,  or — and  more 
often — they  were  officials  or  priests,  and  a  part  of — or  in  association 
with — the  nationally  organized  bureaucracy.  This  bureaucracy  might 
permit  its  property-holding  members  or  associates  to  establish  local 
organizations,  such  as  the  Chinese  "sash-bearers"  (inadequately  trans- 
lated as  "gentry")  and  as  the  priests  of  various  temples  or  creeds.  But 
it  discouraged  any  attempt  to  coordinate  landed  property  on  a  na- 
tional scale  and  in  the  form  of  independent  corporations  or  estates. 

The  holders  of  family  endowments  (ivaqfs)  in  the  Islamic  Near 
East  kept  their  land  undivided,  because  these  lands  were  destined 
ultimately  to  serve  religious  and  charitable  purposes.  But  while  the 
family  waqf  temporarily  benefited  the  grantee  and  his  descendants, 
it  represented  neither  a  secure  nor  a  free  and  strong  form  of  prop- 
erty. Although  less  frequently  singled  out  for  confiscation,  the  family 
waqfs,  like  the  other  waqfs,  might  be  seized  if  the  state  wished  it. 
They  were  taxed;  and  their  beneficiaries  never  consolidated  their 
power  through  a  nationwide  political  organization. 

The  family  waqf  resembles  in  its  announced  purpose,  though 
frequently  not  in  its  immediate  functions,  the  lands  held  by  temples 
and  priests.  But  contrary  to  the  religious  functionaries,  the  holders 
of  these  endowments  are  conspicuous  not  for  any  active  participa- 
tion in  public  life  but  for  their  rentier-like  position.  Temple  land, 
like  secular  office  land,  was  undivided;  but  it  is  indicative  of  the 
relation  between  the  hydraulic  state  and  the  dominant  religions  that 
the  landholding  priests  or  temples  did  not  engage  in  any  effective 
struggle  to  limit  the  absolutist  state  by  constitutional  checks. 

Nor  did  the  landowning  members  of  the  bureaucracy — those  in 
office  as  well  as  the  nonofficiating  "gentry" — organize  themselves  into 
a  national  body  capable  of  upholding  their  proprietary  rights  against 
the  acquisitive  and  legal  pressures  of  the  state  apparatus.  They  were 
content  to  use  their  land  as  a  means  for  comfortable  living,  leaving 
it  to  those  in  office  to  organize  and  operate  a  nationally  integrated 
system  of  political  power.  The  Chinese  general  who  demonstrated 
his  political  harmlessness  by  pretending  to  be  exclusively  interested 
in  acquiring  land 31  strikingly  illustrates  the  political  impotence 
of  Oriental  property,  even  when  it  is  held  by  men  of  the  apparatus 

b.  These  conditions  favored  what  may  be  called  the  introvert  character  of  most 
residential  architecture  in  agrobureaucratic  society,  as  juxtaposed  to  the  extrovert 
architecture  of  the  corresponding  type  of  buildings  in  the  West.  The  tendency  to 
hide   luxurious  courtyards  and  dwellings  behind   a   noncommittal   facade   was   not 

CHAPTER    3,    E  87 


Similar  causes  led  to  similar  results  also  in  the  field  of  religion. 
The  hydraulic  state,  which  permitted  neither  relevant  independent 
military  nor  proprietary  leadership,  did  not  favor  the  rise  of  in- 
dependent religious  power  either.  Nowhere  in  hydraulic  society  did 
the  dominant  religion  place  itself  outside  the  authority  of  the  state 
as  a  nationally  (or  internationally)  integrated  autonomous  church. 

1.  Sole,  Dominant,  and  Secondary  Religions 

A  dominant  religion  may  have  no  conspicuous  competitors.  This 
is  often  the  case  in  simpler  cultures,  where  the  only  relevant  repre- 
sentatives of  heterodox  ideas  and  practices  are  sorcerers  and  witches. 
Here  the  very  problem  of  choice  is  lacking;  and  the  hydraulic  leaders 
readily  identify  themselves  with  the  dominant  religion. 

Secondary  religions  usually  originate  and  spread  under  relatively 
differentiated  institutional  conditions.  Wherever  such  beliefs  are 
given  a  chance  to  persist  (non-Hindu  creeds  in  India;  Taoism  and 
Buddhism  in  Confucian  China;  Christianity  and  Judaism  under 
Islam),  the  rulers  tend  with  time  to  identify  themselves  with  the 
dominant  doctrine.  It  need  scarcely  be  asserted  that  in  the  present 
context  the  word  "dominant"  merely  refers  to  the  social  and  political 
aspects  of  the  matter.  It  implies  no  religious  value  judgment. 
Whether  the  societally  dominant  religion  is  also  superior  in  terms 
of  its  religious  tenets  is  an  entirely  different  (and  legitimate)  ques- 
tion, but  one  which  does  not  come  within  the  scope  of  the  present 

2.  Religious  Authority  Attached  to  the 
Hydraulic  State 

a.  The  Hydraulic  Regime — Occasionally  (quasi-)  Hierocratic 

In  seeking  to  determine  the  relation  between  hydraulic  power  and 
the  dominant  religion,  we  must  first  discard  a  widespread  miscon- 
ception. In  the  hydraulic  world,  as  in  other  agrarian  societies, 
religion  plays  an  enormous  role;  and  the  representatives  of  religion 
tend  to  be  numerous.  However,  the  importance  of  an  institution  does 
not  necessarily  imply  its  autonomy.  As  explained  above,  the  govern- 
ment-supported armies  of  hydraulic  civilizations  are  usually  large, 
but  the  same  factors  which  make  them  large  keep  them  dependent. 

confined  to  wealthy  commoners.  It  also  dominated  the  men  of  the  apparatus — but, 
of  course,  not  their  supreme  master. 


Of  course,  the  patterns  of  religion  cannot  be  equated  with  the 
patterns  of  defense.  But  in  both  cases  size  results  essentially  from 
closeness  to  a  governmental  machine,  which  is  capable  of  mobilizing 
huge  resources  of  income. 

The  majority  of  all  hydraulic  civilizations  are  characterized  by 
large  and  influential  priesthoods.  Yet  it  would  be  wrong  to  designate 
them  as  hierocratic,  "ruled  by  priests."  Many  attempts  have  been 
made  to  determine  the  meaning  of  the  word  "priest";  and  outstand- 
ing comparative  sociologists,  such  as  Max  Weber,1  have  provided  us 
with  a  wide  choice  of  definitions  for  a  phenomenon  whose  institu- 
tional borders  are  not  easily  established. 

Obviously  the  priest  has  to  be  qualified  to  carry  out  his  religious 
tasks,  which  generally  include  the  offering  of  sacrifices  as  well  as 
prayers.  A  qualified  priest  may  give  only  a  fraction  of  his  time  to 
his  religious  duties,  the  greater  part  of  it  being  spent  to  insure 
his  livelihood,  or  he  may  serve  professionally,  that  is,  full  time. 

If  we  define  priestly  rule  as  government  rule  by  professional 
priests,  then  few  if  any  of  the  major  hydraulic  states  can  be  so 
characterized.  In  a  number  of  cases  the  officialdom  included  many 
persons  who  were  trained  as  priests  and  who,  before  assuming  a 
government  position,  acted  as  priests.  It  is  important  to  note  such 
a  background,  because  it  illuminates  the  role  of  the  temples  in 
the  ruling  complex.  But  it  is  equally  important  to  note  that  when 
persons  with  a  priestly  background  become  prominent  in  the  govern- 
ment, they  do  not,  as  a  rule,  continue  to  spend  most  of  their  time 
fulfilling  religious  duties.  Thus  their  regimes  are  not  hierocratic  in 
the  narrow  sense  of  the  term,  but  quasihierocratic.  The  few  hydraulic 
governments  headed  by  qualified  priests  are  almost  all  of  them  of 
this  latter  type. 

The  hydraulic  tribes  of  the  Pueblo  Indians  are  ruled  by  chiefs 
who  play  a  leading  part  in  many  religious  ceremonies.  However, 
except  for  one  or  a  few  among  them — often  only  the  cacique — these 
priest-chiefs  spend  the  bulk  of  their  time  in  farming.  The  Pueblo 
government  is  therefore  represented  by  a  hierarchy  of  men  who, 
though  qualified  to  hold  ceremonial  offices,  are  not  in  their  great 
majority  full-time  priests. 

The  city  states  of  ancient  Sumer  are  said  to  have  been  usually 
ruled  by  the  head  priests  of  the  leading  city  temples,2  and  the 
prominent  courtiers  and  government  officials,  who  had  an  important 
role  in  the  administration  of  the  temple  estates,3  were  quite  possibly 
also  qualified  priests.4  But  did  these  men,  who  were  theologically 

a.  In   the  history  of  Sumer,  professional  priests  appear  early   (Deimel,    1924:   6R.; 
Falkenstein,  1936:  58;  Meissner,  BA,  II:  52).  The  ancient  inscriptions  mention  priests 

CHAPTER    g,    E  89 

trained,  still  have  time  to  fulfill  the  many  religious  functions  of  a 
professional  priest?  Deimel  assumes  that  the  priest-kings  officiated  in 
the  temples  only  on  particularly  solemn  occasions.4  Their  sub- 
ordinates were  kept  equally  busy  by  their  secular  duties — and  equally 
restricted  in  their  religious  activities. 

The  ruler's  top-ranking  aides,  and  also  no  doubt  many  of  his 
lower  officials,  entered  the  political  arena  because  they  were  mem- 
bers of  the  country's  most  powerful  economic  and  military  sub-units, 
the  temples.  The  governments  of  the  Sumerian  temple  cities  were 
therefore  quasihierocratic.  But  even  in  Sumer  the  power  of  the 
temples  seems  to  have  decreased.  The  reform  of  the  priest-king, 
Urukagina,  of  Lagash  indicates  that  as  early  as  the  third  millennium 
b.c.  leading  priestly  families  tried  to  secularize  the  temple  land;  B 
and  soon  after  Urukagina,  the  great  kings  of  Akkad  and  Ur  succeeded 
in  transferring  some  temple  lands  to  the  royal  domains.6  During 
the  subsequent  Babylonian  period  the  temples  ceased  to  be  the 
outstanding  economic  sector  of  the  society,  and  the  bulk  of  the 
high  officials  were  no  longer  necessarily  connected  with  the  priest- 

The  Babylonian  pattern  is  much  more  frequent  than  the  Su- 
merian. As  a  rule,  the  hydraulic  governments  were  administered  by 
professional  officials  who,  though  perhaps  educated  by  priests,  were 
not  trained  to  be  priests.  The  majority  of  all  qualified  and  profes- 
sional priests  remained  occupied  with  their  religious  tasks,  and  the 
employment  of  individual  priests  in  the  service  of  the  state  did  not 
make  the  government  a  hierocracy. 

Among  the  few  attempts  at  priestly  rule  in  a  hydraulic  country  b 
the  Twenty -first  Dynasty  of  Pharaonic  Egypt  seems  particularly 
worthy  of  note.  But  the  usurper-founder  of  this  dynasty,  Herihor, 
who  started  out  as  a  priest,  held  a  secular  government  position  before 
the  Pharaoh  made  him  high  priest;  and  he  was  given  this  position 
not  to  strengthen  but  to  weaken  the  power  of  the  leading  priest- 
hood, that  of  Amon.c  Like  the  priest-kings  of  Sumer,  the  rulers  of 
Pharaonic  Egypt — Herihor  included — obviously  spent  the  greater 
part  of  their  time  in  carrying  out  their  governmental  tasks.  From 
the  standpoint  of  ancient  Egyptian  history,  it  is  significant  that  out 

as  well  as  representatives  of  secular  occupations  (Schneider,  1920:  107  ff.;  Deimel,  1924: 
5  ff.;  Falkenstein,  1936:  58  ff.;  Deimel,  1932:  444  ff.). 

b.  Tibet  is  discussed  as  a  marginal  hydraulic  society  in  Chap.  6,  below. 

c.  Kees,  1938:  ioff„  14,  16;  cf.  Wilson,  1951:  288  ff.  Even  E.  Meyer  (GA,  II,  Pt.  2: 
10  ff.),  who  strongly,  and  probably  unduly,  stresses  the  priestly  background  of  Herihor's 
rise  to  power,  feels  that  the  Twenty-first  Dynasty  did  not  succeed  in  establishing  "a  real 


of  the  twenty-six  dynasties  of  the  Pharaonic  period  at  best  only  one 
can  be  classed  as  quasihierocratic. 

b.  The  Hydraulic  Regime — Frequently  Theocratic 

The  constructional,  organizational,  and  acquisitive  activities  of  hy- 
draulic society  tend  to  concentrate  all  authority  in  a  directing  center: 
the  central  government  and  ultimately  the  head  of  this  government, 
the  ruler.  From  the  dawn  of  hydraulic  civilization  it  was  upon  this 
center  that  the  magic  powers  of  the  commonwealth  tended  to  con- 
verge. The  bulk  of  all  religious  ceremonies  may  be  performed  by  a 
specialized  priesthood,  which  frequently  enjoys  considerable  free- 
dom. But  in  many  hydraulic  societies  the  supreme  representative  of 
secular  authority  is  also  the  embodiment  of  supreme  religious  au- 

Appearing  as  either  a  god  or  a  descendant  of  a  god,  or  as  high 
priest,  such  a  person  is  indeed  a  theocratic  (divine)  or  quasitheocratic 
(pontifical)  ruler.  Obviously,  the  theocratic  regime  need  be  neither 
hierocratic  nor  quasihierocratic.  Even  if  the  divine  or  pontifical 
sovereign  was  trained  as  a  priest,  the  majority  of  his  officials  would 
not  necessarily  have  to  be  so  qualified. 

The  chieftains  of  the  Pueblo  Indians  and  the  Chagga,  who  are 
the  high  priests  of  their  respective  communities,  occupy  a  theocratic 
position;  and  the  divine  quality  of  the  Hawaiian  kings  is  beyond 
doubt.  However,  under  primitive  agrarian  conditions  religious  and 
secular  authority  are  often  closely  combined,  whether  cultivation 
is  carried  out  by  means  of  irrigation  or  not. 

In  contrast  to  the  wide  distribution  of  theocratic  institutions 
among  primitive  agrarian  peoples,  theocracy  developed  unevenly 
in  the  higher  agrarian  civilizations.  Theocratic  or  quasitheocratic 
trends  prevailed  in  many  state-centered  hydraulic  societies,  whereas 
they  came  to  nothing  in  ancient  Greece  and  Medieval  Europe. 

In  Homeric  Greece  the  king  was  of  divine  origin,7  and  his  pre- 
eminence in  religious  matters  was  so  strong  that  he  has  been  called 
the  "chief  priest."  8  Subsequent  democratic  developments  did  not 
destroy  the  relation  between  state  and  religion;  but  they  placed  the 
control  of  both  types  of  activities  in  the  hands  of  the  citizens.  Strictly 
supervised  by  the  citizen  community,  the  state  religion  of  ancient 
Greece  developed  neither  a  clerical  hierarchy  B  nor  a  closed  priestly 
order.10  As  a  rule,  those  destined  to  officiate  as  priests  were  chosen 
by  either  lot  or  election.11  Hence  they  lacked  the  training  which 
plays  so  great  a  role  in  professional  and  self-perpetuating  priest- 
hoods. The  finances  of  the  temples  were  strictly  controlled  by  politi- 

CHAPTER    3,    E  gi 

cal  authorities,  who  in  their  majority  were  similarly  chosen.  More- 
over, governmental  leaders  were  not  considered  divine,  nor  did  they 
act  as  high  priests  or  heads  of  any  coordinated  religious  order.  The 
designation  "theocracy,"  which  may  be  applied  to  the  primitive  con- 
ditions of  early  Greece,  therefore  hardly  fits  the  "serving"  citizen 
state  of  the  democratic  period. 

In  the  great  agrarian  civilizations  of  Medieval  Europe,  nontheo- 
cratic  development  went  still  further.  Attempts  by  Pepin  and  Char- 
lemagne to  establish  theocratic  authority  12  were  unable  to  reverse 
the  trend  toward  feudal  decentralization.  Among  the  many  secondary 
centers  of  proprietary,  military,  and  political  power,  which  restricted 
the  authority  of  the  national  and  territorial  rulers,  the  Church 
proved  eminently  effective,  since  a  unified  doctrine  and  an 
increasingly  unified  leadership  endowed  its  quasifeudal  local  units 
with  quasi-Oriental  organizational  strength.  After  a  prolonged  period 
of  intense  conflict,  the  Church  gained  full  autonomy.  In  the  11th 
century  the  French  crown  "had  given  way  to  the  Holy  See,"  13  and 
the  German  Emperor  Henry  IV  humiliated  himself  before  Pope 
Gregory  VII.  For  some  time  the  struggle  between  secular  and  eccle- 
siastical power  continued  inconclusively,  until  Innocent  III  (i  198— 
1216)  raised  papal  authority  to  such  a  peak  that  he  could  try,  al- 
though without  success,  to  subordinate  the  state  to  the  leadership 
of  the  Church. 

Among  the  many  manifestations  of  autonomous  ecclesiastical  be- 
havior the  English  instance  is  particularly  instructive.  In  1215  the 
English  bishops  together  with  the  feudal  lords  forced  King  John  to 
recognize,  in  the  Magna  Carta,  the  legitimacy  of  a  balanced  con- 
stitutional government.  The  Carta  was  "  'primarily'  a  concession 
made  'to  God'  in  favour  of  the  Anglican  Church.  ...  By  the  first 
article  the  king  granted  'the  English  Church  should  be  free,  enjoy 
its  full  rights  and  its  liberties  inviolate'  and,  in  particular  'that 
liberty  which  is  considered  the  greatest  and  the  most  necessary  for 
the  English  Church,  freedom  of  elections.'  Article  42  concerning 
freedom  to  leave  the  kingdom  involved  for  the  clergy  the  extremely 
important  right  to  go  to  Rome  without  the  king's  permission."  14 

The  Church  under  the  Carta  was  not  just  one  of  several  groups 
of  effectively  organized  feudal  landowners.  In  its  national  as  well 
as  in  its  international  organization  it  was  different  from,  and  in  a 
way  superior  to,  the  corporations  of  the  secular  nobility.  Further- 
more, it  struggled  for  autonomy  as  a  religious  body  with  specific 
religious  objectives  and  claims.  But  however  crucial  these  peculi- 
arities were,  the  Church  could  not  have  checked  the  power  of  the 
political  regime  if  it  had  not,  at  the  same  time,  strengthened  the 


proprietary  and  organizational  forces  of  the  secular  nobility.  As  the 
religious  sector  of  these  forces,  the  Church  in  the  agrarian  society 
of  Medieval  Europe  became  an  essentially  independent  entity.15 
In  achieving  this  goal,  it  fatefully  supported  the  growth  of  the 
balanced  late  feudal  order,  which  eventually  gave  birth  to  modern 
Western  society. 

Thus  whether  originally  they  were  theocratically  ruled  or  not, 
the  higher  agrarian  civilizations  of  the  West  did  not  evolve  massive 
theocratic  power  structures.  The  city  states  of  classical  Greece  pre- 
sented a  nontheocratic  combination  of  government  and  religion;  and 
in  Medieval  Europe  the  secular  and  religious  authorities,  far  from 
establishing  an  integrated  system  of  Caesaro-Papism,  crystallized  into 
two  spectacularly  separate  bodies. 

Hydraulic  civilization  moved  in  a  radically  different  direction. 
Where  tribal  hydraulic  governments  were  theocratically  shaped,  the 
original  pattern  usually  persisted  even  under  more  complex  institu- 
tional conditions.  And  where  theocracy  was  lacking  in  prehydraulic 
times,  it  frequently  emerged  as  part  of  the  hydraulic  development. 

A  society  which  provided  unique  opportunities  for  the  growth  of 
the  governmental  machine  left  no  room  for  the  growth  of  a  politi- 
cally and  economically  independent  dominant  religion.  The  agro- 
managerial  sovereign  cemented  his  secular  position  by  attaching  to 
himself  in  one  form  or  another  the  symbols  of  supreme  religious 
authority.  In  some  instances  his  position  is  not  conclusively  theo- 
cratic, but  this  is  more  the  exception  than  the  rule.  In  the  majority 
of  all  cases  hydraulic  regimes  seem  to  have  been  either  theocratic  or 

The  institutional  diversity  of  the  hydraulic  world  precludes  a 
rigid  correlation.  But  it  seems  that  divine  sovereigns  appear  prima- 
rily under  less  differentiated  societal  conditions.  On  a  neolithic  level 
of  technology  the  Incas  ruled  theocratically  over  a  simple  hydraulic 
society.  The  supreme  ("Unique,"  Sapa)  Inca  was  a  descendant  of  the 
Sun,  and  thus  divine; 18  and  in  varying  degrees  his  relatives  shared 
this  status.17  The  Sapa  Inca  performed  the  most  solemn  sacrifices,18 
ranking  ceremonially  above  the  professional  high  priests,  who  were 
usually  chosen  from  among  his  uncles  or  brothers.19  His  officials 
managed  the  distribution  and  cultivation  of  the  temple  land,20  and 
they  administered  the  storehouses  of  the  temples  as  well  as  those  of 
the  secular  government.21  Thus  the  government,  headed  by  a  divine 
ruler,  controlled  both  the  country's  secular  affairs  and  the  priest- 
hood of  its  dominant  religion. 

The  theocratic  development  of  the  Near  East  is  evidenced  by 
many  literary  and  pictorial  records.  Arising  without  any  conspicuous 

CHAPTER    3,    E  93 

institutional  attachment  to — though  not  without  cultural  connec- 
tions with — Mesopotamia,*  the  state  of  ancient  Egypt  demonstrates 
the  power  potential  of  a  highly  concentrated  and  relatively  simple 
hydraulic  order.  The  Pharaoh  is  a  god  or  the  son  of  a  god,22  a  great 
and  good  god.23  He  is  the  god,  Horus,24  a  scion  of  the  Sun  god,  Re.25 
He  derives  "bodily"  from  his  divine  parent.28  Being  thus  distin- 
guished, he  is  the  given  middleman  between  the  gods  and  mankind. 
Lack  of  time  prevents  him  from  personally  attending  to  most  of  his 
religious  duties;  27  but  he  is  a  high  priest,28  and  the  priest  of  all 
gods.29  About  the  exaltedness  of  his  position  there  can  be  no  doubt. 

Originally  the  temple  services  were  performed  in  considerable 
part  by  royal  officials,30  and  the  temple  administration  was  managed 
by  the  king's  men.31  But  even  after  the  crystallization  of  a  sub- 
stantial professional  priesthood,  the  state  continued  to  have  juris- 
diction over  the  temple  revenues;  and  the  Pharaohs  appointed  the 
individual  priests.32  This  system  of  control  prevailed  throughout 
the  Old  and  Middle  Kingdoms,  and  even  at  the  beginning  of  the 
New  Kingdom.  It  disintegrated  during  the  period  of  crisis  and  un- 
rest, which  at  the  end  of  the  Twentieth  Dynasty  e  enabled  a  high 
priest  to  ascend  the  throne.33  From  the  Twenty-second  to  the 
Twenty-fifth  Dynasty,  Egypt  was  ruled  by  Libyan  and  Nubian  con- 
querors, but  the  Pharaohs'  divine  position  persisted  despite  all 
political  changes  down  to  the  Twenty-sixth  and  last  dynasty.34 

In  ancient  Mesopotamia  society  was  from  the  dawn  of  written 
history  more  differentiated  than  in  early  Egypt.  This  may  be  the 
reason — or  one  of  the  reasons — why  the  divinity  of  the  Sumerian 
kings  is  formulated  in  a  relatively  complicated  way.  In  contrast  to 
the  Pharaoh  who  was  "begotten  by  the  god— corporeal ized  in  the 
king — and  the  queen,"  35  the  Sumerian  king  is  in  his  mother's  womb 
"endowed  with  divine  qualities,  first  of  all  strength  and  wisdom."  3G 
After  his  birth  he  is  nurtured  by  the  gods;  and  enthronement  and 
coronation  confirm  his  divinization.37  If,  as  Labat  suggests,  the 
deities  recognize  the  king  as  divine  only  after  his  birth,  he  is  not 
the  divine  offspring  of  divine  parents,  but  rather  their  adopted 


The  controversy  concerning  the  exact  nature  of  the  king's  divinity 
in  ancient  Mesopotamia 39  indicates  the  complexity  of  the  early 
Mesopotamian  pattern,  but  it  cannot  hide  the  fact  that  the  Sumerian 
king,  in  one  way  or  another,  represented  supreme  divine  authority 

d.  Contact   between    the    two   civilizations   probably    began    long   before    the   dawn 
of  written  history  (cf.  Kees,  1933:  7  ff.). 

e.  For  the  establishment  of  an  independent  temple  economy  during  the  Twentieth 
Dynasty  see  Breasted,   1927,  IV:   242  ff.;  cf.  Rostovtzeff,  1941,  I:   281  ff. 


on  earth.40  He  held  the  position  of  high  priest.41  In  principle  he  was 
"the  only  sustainer  of  the  high  priest's  office."  42  His  administrative 
control  over  the  temples  was  easily  maintained,  since  in  the  Sumerian 
city  states  all  major  temples  were  headed  by  the  priest-king,  his  wife, 
or  some  other  member  of  his  family.43 

From  the  end  of  the  Sumerian  period  on,  the  relations  between 
the  governments  of  Mesopotamia  and  the  temples  grew  less  close, 
but  the  temples  were  unable  to  free  themselves  from  the  control 
of  the  secular  ruler.  The  king  continued  to  occupy  a  quasidivine 
position,  similar  to  that  held  by  his  Sumerian  predecessors.  As  of 
old,  he  had  the  right  to  perform  the  highest  religious  functions.  In 
Assyria  he  did  so  personally,44  whereas  in  Babylonia  these  tasks  were 
usually  delegated  to  a  representative.45  Usually,  not  always.  In  the 
great  "creation"  rites  at  the  New  Year  he  played  so  important  a 
religious  role 48  that  "during  these  ceremonies  the  sovereign  was  for 
his  people  really  the  very  incarnation  of  the  gods."  47 

In  Assyria  the  government  maintained  strict  administrative  and 
judicial  control  over  the  dominant  religion;  48  in  Babylonia  control 
was  much  less  rigid.  But  here,  too,  the  kings  successfully  upheld 
their  right  to  appoint  the  high-ranking  priests,49  and  having  been 
appointed  by  the  sovereign,  "the  priest  had  to  swear  an  oath  [of 
allegiance]  like  all  other  officials."  50 

The  Achaemenian  kings,  who  through  conquest  made  themselves 
masters  of  the  entire  Near  East,  are  said  to  have  lacked  divinity.  Did 
they  retain  in  their  Persian  homeland  certain  of  their  earlier  non- 
theocratic  concepts?  Or  were  they  worshiped  as  divine  beings  by 
their  Persian  subjects,  because  they  were  imbued  with  a  divine 
substance? 61  Whatever  the  answer  to  these  questions  may  be,  the 
victorious  Cyrus  adopted  in  Babylonia  "all  the  elements  of  Chaldean 
monarchy," 52  including  royal  divinity;  and  his  successors  acted 
similarly  in  Egypt.  Like  all  earlier  Egyptian  rulers  known  to  us, 
Darius  was  called  divine:  "Horus"  and  the  "good  god."  53 

The  Hellenistic  sovereigns  of  the  Ptolemaic  and  Seleucid  empires 
quickly  learned  to  combine  religious  and  secular  authority.54  Signifi- 
cantly the  worship  of  the  king  was  less  fully  developed  at  the  in- 
stitutional fringe  of  the  hydraulic  world,  in  Anatolia.  But  here,  too, 
the  Hellenistic  rulers  definitely,  if  cautiously,  sought  theocratic 

The  Romans  adopted  many  of  the  institutions  of  their  new 
Oriental  possessions.  Acceptance  of  the  emperor's  divinity  was 
gradual;  but  the  beginnings  of  emperor  worship  go  back  to  the  early 
days  of  the  empire.  The  cult,  which  had  already  been  proposed  by 
Caesar,56  was  officially  established  by  the  first  emperor,  Augustus." 


CHAPTER    3,    E  95 

In  Early  Byzantium,  Christianity  adjusted  itself  to  an  autocratic 
regime  that  felt  "completely  competent  to  legislate  in  all  religious 
as  in  all  secular  affairs"; 58  but  it  proved  incompatible  with  the  con- 
cept of  a  divine  ruler.  Despite  significant  efforts  to  assert  the  quasi- 
divine  quality  of  the  emperor,59  the  Byzantine  government  was, 
according  to  our  criteria,  at  best  marginally  theocratic. 

Islam  objects  to  the  divinization  of  the  ruler  for  reasons  of  its 
own:  Mohammad  was  Allah's  prophet,  not  his  son;  and  the  caliph, 
who  inherited  the  prophet's  authority,  had  no  divine  status.  Al- 
though he  was  in  charge  of  important  religious  matters,80  he  cannot 
well  be  called  a  high  priest  either.  Measuring  the  position  of  the 
caliph  by  our  criteria,  we  therefore,  and  in  conformity  with  expert 
opinion,  consider  it  neither  theocratic  nor  hierocratic.' 

In  China  the  ruler  emerges  in  the  light  of  history  as  the  supreme 
authority  both  in  secular  and  religious  matters.  Whether  the  tradi- 
tional designation,  "Son  of  Heaven,"  reflects  an  earlier  belief  in  the 
sovereign's  divinity,  we  do  not  know.  The  overlords  of  the  Chou 
empire  and  of  the  subsequent  imperial  dynasties,  who  all  used  this 
appellation,  were  considered  humans,  yet  they  occupied  a  quasi- 
theocratic  position.  Entrusted  with  the  Mandate  of  Heaven,  they 
controlled  the  magic  relations  with  the  forces  of  nature  by  elaborate 
sacrifices.  In  the  great  religious  ceremonies  the  ruler  and  his  central 
and  local  officials  assumed  the  leading  roles,  leaving  only  secondary 
functions  to  the  professional  sacerdotalists  and  their  aides.  The 
emperor  was  the  chief  performer  in  the  most  sacred  of  all  ceremonies, 
the  sacrifice  to  Heaven; 61  and  he  was  the  chief  performer  also  in 
the  sacrifices  to  Earth,  for  the  prospering  of  the  crop,62  for  the 
early  summer  rains,83  and  for  the  national  deities  of  Soil  and  Millet.64 
Some  of  these  rites  were  confined  to  the  national  capital.  Others 
were  also  enacted  in  the  many  regional  and  local  subcenters  of  state 
power  by  distinguished  provincial,  district,  or  community  officials: 
the  great  rain  sacrifice,65  the  ceremonial  plowing,68  the  sacrifices  to 
Confucius  67  and  to  the  patron  of  agriculture,68  etc.ff 

To  sum  up:  in  the  Chinese  state  religion,  the  ruler  and  a  hierarchy 
of  high  officials  fulfilled  crucial  priestly  functions,  although  in  their 

/.  See  Arnold,  1924:  189  ff.,  198  n.;  ibid.,  1941:  294.  All  this  is  true  essentially  for 
the  Sunnite  sector  of  the  Islamic  world.  In  the  Shi'ite  sector  the  theocratic  tendencies 
occasionally  became  very  strong.  For  instance,  Shah  Isma'il  of  the  Safawid  Dynasty 
apparently  "considered  himself  as  God  incarnate"  (Minorsky,  1943:  12  n.). 

g.  Thus  in  the  political  order  of  traditional  China  religious  ideas  and  practices 
played  a  significant  role,  and  certain  of  the  latter  were  as  comprehensive  as  they  were 
awe-inspiring.  The  outstanding  European  expert  on  Chinese  religion,  De  Groot,  calls 
the  great  sacrifice  to  Heaven  "perhaps  the  most  impressive  ceremony  ever  performed 
on  earth  by  man"  (De  Groot,  1918:  180). 


vast  majority  these  officials  and  the  emperor  himself  were  primarily 
occupied  with  secular  matters.  The  government  of  traditional  China 
therefore  presents  a  consistent — and  unusual — variant  of  theocracy. 

c.  Agrarian  Despotism  Always  Keeps  the  Dominant  Religion 
Integrated  in  Its  Power  System 

Thus  within  the  hydraulic  world  some  countries  were  ruled  quasi- 
hierocratically  by  qualified  priests  who,  however,  no  longer  engaged 
professionally  in  their  vocation;  and  many  were  ruled  theocratically, 
or  quasitheocratically,  by  divine  or  pontifical  sovereigns.  Of  the  re- 
mainder some  were  borderline  cases;  and  others  were  probably 
neither  hierocratic  nor  theocratic.  But  even  among  the  latter  the 
dominant  religion  was  unable  to  establish  itself  as  an  independent 
church  vis-a-vis  the  government.  In  one  form  or  another,  it  became 
integrated  in  the  power  system  of  the  hydraulic  regime. 

In  certain  regions  of  pre-Conquest  Mexico  the  political  ruler  was 
originally  also  the  supreme  priest,69  and  in  Michoacan  this  pattern 
persisted  until  the  arrival  of  the  Spaniards.70  In  the  territorial  states 
on  the  Lake  of  Mexico  the  two  functions  were  manifestly  separated 
long  before  the  conquest,  but  the  king  continued  to  fulfill  certain 
religious  tasks,  and  the  temples  and  their  personnel  were  under  his 
authority.  On  occasion  the  sovereign,  alone  or  together  with  his 
top-ranking  aides,  might  don  priestly  attire;  71  and  he  personally 
performed  certain  sacrifices.72  Furthermore,  and  perhaps  most  im- 
portant, the  king  and  his  top-ranking  aides  appointed  the  Great 
Priests; 73  and  temple  land  was  apparently  administered  together 
with  government  land.74 

Should  we  for  this  reason  call  pre-Conquest  Mexico  quasitheo- 
cratic?  Perhaps.  The  Mexican  constellation  defies  simple  classifica- 
tion, but  this  much  is  certain:  The  priests  of  the  various  temples 
who  assembled  for  ceremonial  purposes  had  no  independent  nation- 
wide organization  of  their  own.  Cooperating  closely  with  the  secular 
leaders,  whose  offspring  they  educated  and  in  whose  armies  they 
served,75  they  were  no  counterweight  to,  but  an  integral  part  of, 
the  despotic  regime. 

The  borderline  cases  of  early  Achaemenian  Persia  and  of  By 
zantine  and  Islamic  society  have  already  been  touched  upon.  But 
even  when  in  these  cases  the  government  was  only  peripherally 
theocratic,  the  dominant  religion  was  everywhere  firmly  enmeshed 
in  the  secular  system  of  authority.  The  Achaemenian  king,  who  in 
secular  matters  ruled  absolutely,  in  theory  also  had  the  final  say  in 
religious  matters.  And  not  only  in  theory.  The  case  of  Artaxerxes  II 

CHAPTER    3,    E  gy 

shows  that  the  Achaemenian  king  could  change  the  religious  cult  in 
significant  ways.78  The  dominant  priests,  the  magi,  constituted  a 
privileged  group,77  but  they  did  not  establish  a  national  and  auton- 
omous Church. 

Early  Byzantium  is  among  the  very  few  hydraulic  civilizations 
that  permitted  the  dominant  religion  to  function  as  a  Church.  But 
while  this  Church  was  well  organized,  it  did  not  evolve  into  an 
independent  entity,  as  did  the  Roman  branch  after  the  collapse 
of  the  Western  half  of  the  empire.  During  the  early  period  of  By- 
zantine history — that  is,  from  the  4th  to  the  7th  century — the 
"saintly,"  78  if  not  divine,  emperor  followed  Roman  tradition  which 
held  that  the  religion  of  his  subjects  was  part  of  the  jus  publicum; 
he  consequently  exerted  "an  almost  unlimited  control  over  the  life 
of  the  Church."  79 

Under  Islam,  political  and  religious  leadership  was  originally  one, 
and  traces  of  this  arrangement  survived  throughout  the  history  of 
the  creed.  The  position  of  the  Islamic  sovereign  (the  caliphs  and 
sultans)  underwent  many  transformations,  but  it  never  lost  its 
religious  quality.80  Originally  the  caliphs  directed  the  great  com- 
munal prayer.  Within  their  jurisdictions,  the  provincial  governors 
led  the  ritual  prayer,  particularly  on  Fridays,  and  they  also  delivered 
the  sermon,  the  khutba.  The  caliphs  appointed  the  official  inter- 
preter of  the  Sacred  Law,  the  muftis  The  centers  of  Muslim  wor- 
ship, the  mosques,  were  essentially  administered  by  persons  directly 
dependent  upon  the  sovereign,  such  as  the  kadis;  and  the  religious 
endowments,  the  waqfs,  which  provided  the  main  support  for  the 
mosques,  were  often,  though  not  always,  administered  by  the  govern- 
ment. Throughout  the  history  of  Islam  the  ruler  remained  the  top- 
ranking  authority  for  the  affairs  of  the  mosque.  "He  interfered  in 
the  administration  and  shaped  it  according  to  his  will,"  and  he 
"could  also  interfere  in  the  inner  affairs  of  the  mosques,  perhaps 
through  his  regular  agencies."  82  All  this  did  not  make  the  caliphate 
a  theocracy,  but  it  indicates  a  governmental  authority  strong  enough 
to  prevent  the  establishment  of  an  Islamic  Church  that  was  inde- 
pendent of  the  state. 

In  India  the  relation  between  secular  and  religious  authority 
underwent  considerable  transformation,  but  certain  basic  features 
persisted  throughout  and  even  after  the  close  of  the  Hindu  period. 
Available  evidence  suggests  that  in  the  early  days  of  Hindu  history 
the  government  depended  less  on  priestly  participation  than  it  has 
since  the  later  part  of  the  first  millennium  b.c.83  But  whatever 
changes  have  occurred  in  this  respect,  secular  and  religious  authority 
remained  closely  integrated. 


Were  the  Brahmins  disinclined,  or  unable,  to  create  an  auton- 
omous position  similar  to  that  of  the  Church  in  feudal  Europe?  Did 
they  live  by  gifts  and  government  grants  because  they  wanted  to  or 
because  they  had  no  choice?  Everything  we  know  about  the  attitudes 
of  the  Brahmins  shows  that  they,  like  other  priestly  groups,  preferred 
a  strong  and  secure  position  over  one  that  was  weak  and  insecure. 
However,  the  Hindu  sovereigns  willed  it  otherwise.  Like  their 
hydraulic  fellow  monarchs,  they  favored  regulated  and  weak  forms 
of  property  for  their  subjects.  They  paid  their  secular  aides  in 
money,  consumable  goods,  and  the  usufruct  of  land  ("villages");  and 
they  remunerated  the  representatives  of  the  dominant  religion  in 
exactly  the  same  way.  In  India  this  was  still  the  policy  at  the  end 
of  the  Hindu  period,  when  an  increase  in  private  landownership 
failed  to  consolidate  proprietary  power  in  any  way  comparable  to 
that  of  late  feudal  or  postfeudal  Europe. 

To  say  this  does  not  mean  to  deny  the  extraordinary  role  of 
Brahminism — and  of  the  Brahmins — in  the  governments  of  Hindu 
and  Muslim  India.  All  four  castes  are  said  to  have  been  made  from 
parts  of  Brahma's  body,  and  the  Brahmin  caste  from  a  particularly 
noble  part,  the  mouth.84  But  the  great  Law  Book  ascribed  to  Manu 
especially  stresses  the  divinity  of  the  king.80  It  thus  credits  his  rule 
with  a  definitely  theocratic  quality. 

Hindu  government  also  had  significant  quasihierocratic  features. 
From  Vedic  times  the  king  had  had  a  priest  attached  to  his  person, 
the  purohita; 86  and  this  dignitary  soon  became  his  advisor  in  all 
matters  of  importance.87  The  Law  Books,  which  were  written  by 
Brahmins  and  accepted  by  the  government  as  guides  for  action,  re- 
quire the  king  to  have  a  purohita  88  "(who  shall  be)  foremost  in  all 
(transactions).  Let  him  act  according  to  his  instructions."  89 

A  priest  advised  the  king;  and  a  priest  aided  him  in  administering 
the  priest-formulated  laws.  The  Book  of  Manu  insists  that  "a  learned 
Brahmana  must  carefully  study  them,  and  he  must  duly  instruct  his 
pupils  in  them,  but  nobody  else  (shall  do  it)."  90  In  doubtful  cases 
well-instructed  Brahmins  were  to  decide  what  was  right,91  and  in  the 
courts  the  priests,  either  with  the  king  and  his  aides  or  alone,  were 
to  act  as  judges.92 

Well  educated  and  politically  influential,  the  priests  had  unique 
opportunities  for  handling  administrative  tasks.  The  purohita  might 
become  the  king's  top-ranking  minister.93  In  a  similar  way,  priests 
might  be  entrusted  with  all  manner  of  fiscal  tasks.  Tnis  was  so 
during  the  classical  days  of  Hindu  culture,94  and  it  continued  to  be 
a  major  trend  until  the  end  of  the  Muslim  period.  Du  Bois  states 
that  "Brahmins  become  necessary  even  to  the  Mussulman  princes 

CHAPTER    J,    E  99 

themselves,  who  cannot  govern  without  their  assistance.  The  Mo- 
hamedan  rulers  generally  make  a  Brahmin  their  secretary  of  state, 
through  whose  hands  all  the  state  correspondence  must  pass.  Brah- 
mins also  frequently  fill  the  positions  of  secretaries  and  writers  to 
the  governors  of  provinces  and  districts."  95 

The  English  did  little  to  change  this  age-old  pattern.  The  Brah- 

occupy  the  highest  and  most  lucrative  posts  in  the  different 
administrative  boards  and  Government  offices,  as  well  as  in  the 
judicial  courts  of  the  various  districts.  In  fact  there  is  no  branch 
of  public  administration  in  which  they  have  not  made  them- 
selves indispensable.  Thus  it  is  nearly  always  Brahmins  who 
hold  the  posts  of  sub-collectors  of  revenue,  writers,  copyists, 
translators,  treasurers,  book-keepers,  etc.  It  is  especially  diffi- 
cult to  do  without  their  assistance  in  all  matters  connected 
with  accounts,  as  they  have  a  remarkable  talent  for  arithmetic. 
I  have  seen  some  men  in  the  course  of  a  few  minutes  work  out, 
to  the  last  fraction,  long  and  complicated  calculations,  which 
would  have  taken  the  best  accountants  in  Europe  hours  to  get 

During  the  Hindu  period  and  after,  many  trained  and  qualified 
priests  indeed  fulfilled  important  government  functions.  But  except 
for  the  purohita  and  perhaps  certain  others  who  temporarily  acted 
as  judges,  the  priests  became  full-time  officials.  As  in  other  hydraulic 
civilizations,  they  preserved  their  religious  quality,  but  they  ceased 
to  be  professional  priests.  In  all  probability,  they  did  not  constitute 
the  majority  of  all  officials,  for  there  already  existed  a  numerous 
"ruling"  caste,97  the  Kshatriya,  who  were  specialists  in  administrative 
and,  particularly,  military  matters. 

d.  The  Changing  Position  of  the  Dominant  Priesthood  in 
Hydraulic  Society 

These  observations  protect  us  against  assuming  that,  during  an 
early  phase,  hydraulic  civilization  was  ruled  by  priests  and  that,  later 
on,  it  was  dominated  by  a  secular  group,  preferably  warriors. 

To  repeat:  hierocracy,  the  rule  of  priests  who  remained  officiating 
priests  while  they  governed,  was  rare;  and  rule  by  trained  priests  was 
far  from  being  a  general  feature  of  early  hydraulic  civilizations. 
Theocracy  characterized  many  hydraulic  civilizations,  both  late  and 
early;  but  it  did  not  necessarily  involve  priest  rule. 

True,  in  the  early  days  of  Mesopotamia  and  of  many  (most?) 


hydraulic  areas  of  the  Western  hemisphere,  the  temples  apparently 
played  a  dominant  role  in  the  choice  of  sovereigns  and  officials;  but 
in  several  major  hydraulic  centers  of  the  Old  World  this  was  not 
the  case.  In  China  no  conspicuous  body  of  professional  priests  repre- 
sented the  dominant  religion.  In  Pharaonic  Egypt  a  professional 
priesthood  was  not  lacking;  but  in  the  Old  Kingdom  many  important 
religious  functions  were  fulfilled  by  the  ruler  and  certain  ranking 
officials.  In  the  early  days  of  Aryan  India  the  government  was  run 
by  secular  "warriors"  (Kshatriyas).  Only  later  and  gradually  did  the 
priests,  directly  or  indirectly,  participate  in  the  government. 

Nor  can  it  be  said  that  later  and  larger  hydraulic  societies  were 
generally  ruled  by  military  men.  As  will  be  explained  more  fully  in 
subsequent  chapters,  military  officials  and  "the  army"  might  indeed 
prevail  over  the  civil  bureaucracy.  But  this  development  was  by  no 
means  confined  to  later  and  more  complex  hydraulic  societies.  More- 
over, for  obvious  reasons,  it  was  the  exception  rather  than  the  rule, 
since  in  an  agromanagerial  state  the  political  organizer  (the  "pen") 
tends  to  be  more  powerful  than  the  military  leader  (the  "sword"). 


But  whatever  the  deficiencies  of  this  assumption  of  a  development 
from  priest  rule  to  warrior  rule,  it  has  the  merit  of  drawing  attention 
to  the  multiple  functions  of  the  hydraulic  regime.  Different  from 
the  society  of  feudal  Europe,  in  which  the  majority  of  all  military 
leaders  (the  feudal  barons)  were  but  loosely  and  conditionally  linked 
to  their  sovereigns,  and  in  which  the  dominant  religion  was  inde- 
pendent of  the  secular  government,  the  army  of  hydraulic  society 
was  an  integral  part  of  the  agromanagerial  bureaucracy,  and  the 
dominant  religion  was  closely  attached  to  the  state.  It  was  this 
formidable  concentration  of  vital  functions  which  gave  the  hydraulic 
government  its  genuinely  despotic  (total)  power. 



espotic  power— total  and  not  benevolent 

The  despotic  character  of  hydraulic  government  is  not  seriously 
contested.  The  term  "Oriental  despotism,"  which  is  generally  used 
for  the  Old  World  variants  of  this  phenomenon,  connotes  an  ex- 
tremely harsh  form  of  absolutist  power. 

But  those  who  admit  the  ruthlessness  of  Oriental  despotism  often 
insist  that  regimes  of  this  type  were  limited  by  institutional  and  moral 
checks  which  made  them  bearable  and  at  times  even  benevolent. 
How  bearable  and  how  benevolent  was  hydraulic  despotism?  Ob- 
viously this  question  can  be  answered  only  by  a  comparative  and 
reasoned  examination  of  the  pertinent  facts. 


1.  Absence  of  Effective  Constitutional  Checks 

The  existence  of  constitutional  regulations  does  not  necessarily  in- 
volve the  existence  of  a  constitutionally  restricted  government.  All 
governments  that  persist  over  time — and  many  others  as  well — have 
a  certain  pattern  (constitution).  This  pattern  may  be  expressed  in 
written  form.  Under  advanced  cultural  conditions,  this  is  usually 
done,  and  at  times  in  an  orderly  collection,  a  code. 

The  development  of  a  written  constitution  is  by  no  means  identical 
with  the  development  of  a  "constitutionally"  restricted  government. 
Just  as  a  law  may  be  imposed  by  the  government  (lex  data)  or  agreed 
upon  both  by  governmental  authority  and  independent  nongovern- 
mental forces  (lex  rogata),  so  a  constitution  may  also  be  imposed  or 
agreed  upon.  The  term  constitutiones  originally  referred  to  edicts, 
rescripts,  and  mandates  that  were  one-sidedly  and  autocratically 
issued  by  the  Roman  emperors. 

Even  a  highly  systematized  law  code  does  not  bind  the  autocratic 
lawgivers  by  restrictions  other  than  those  inherent  in  all  self-imposed 
norms.  The  ruler  who  exercises  complete  administrative,  managerial, 
judicial,  military,  and  fiscal  authority  may  use  his  power  to  make 
whatever  laws  he  and  his  aides  deem  fit.  Expediency  and  inertia 



favor  the  perpetuation  of  most  of  these  laws,  but  the  absolutist 
regime  is  free  to  alter  its  norms  at  any  time;  and  the  history  of 
hydraulic  civilizations  testifies  to  the  periodic  promulgation  of  new 
laws  and  new  codes.  The  "Collected  Regulations"  (hui  yao)  of  im- 
perial China,1  the  Law  Books  (dharma  shastra)  of  India,2  and  the 
administrative  and  judicial  writings  of  the  Byzantine  and  Islamic 
East  are  all  cases  in  point. 

Having  been  imposed  one-sidedly,  constitutional  regulations  are 
also  changed  one-sidedly.  In  China  "all  legislative,  executive  and 
judicial  powers  belonged  to  him  [the  emperor]."  3  In  Hindu  India 
"constitutionally  the  king  was  in  a  position  to  accept  or  repudiate 
the  laws  accepted  by  his  predecessor."  *  In  Byzantium  "there  was  no 
organ  in  the  state  that  had  a  right  to  control  him  [the  emperor]." 
Or,  more  specifically:  "For  his  legislative  and  administrative  acts, 
the  monarch  was  responsible  to  none,  except  to  Heaven."  s 

In  Islamic  society  the  caliph,  like  all  other  believers,  was  expected 
to  submit  to  the  Sacred  Law,6  and  generally  he  was  quite  ready  to 
uphold  it  as  part  of  the  dominant  religious  order.  But  he  asserted 
his  power  whenever  he  thought  it  desirable  by  establishing  (adminis- 
trative) secular  courts  and  by  directing  them  through  special  decrees 
(qdnun  or  siyasa).7  And  the  religious  judges,  the  kadis,  were  eager 
to  support  a  government  that  appointed  and  deposed  them  at  will.a 
Thus  the  theoretical  absence  of  a  legislature  modified  the  appear- 
ance but  not  the  substance  of  Islamic  absolutism.  "The  Caliphate 
.  .  .  was  a  despotism  which  placed  unrestricted  power  in  the  hands 
of  the  ruler."  8 

In  these  and  other  comparable  instances  the  regime  represents  a 
definite  structural  and  operational  pattern,  a  "constitution."  But 
this  pattern  is  not  agreed  upon.  It  is  given  from  above,  and  the  rulers 
of  hydraulic  society  create,  maintain,  and  modify  it,  not  as  the 
controlled  agents  of  society  but  as  its  masters. 

2.  Absence  of  Effective  Societal  Checks 

a.  No  Independent  Centers  of  Authority  Capable  of  Check- 
ing the  Power  of  the  Hydraulic  Regime 

Of  course,  the  absence  of  formal  constitutional  checks  does  not 
necessarily  imply  the  absence  of  societal  forces  whose  interests  and 

a.  Schacht,  1941:  677.  The  Sacred  Law,  the  Islamic  law  proper,  was  in  time  confined 
essentially  to  personal  matters,  such  as  marriage,  family,  and  inheritance,  while  secular 
law  dealt  primarily  with  criminal  cases,  taxation,  and  land  problems.  This  was  so 
not  only  under  the  Arab  caliphs,  but  also  under  the  Turkish  sultans. 

CHAPTER   4,   A  103 

intentions  the  government  must  respect.  In  most  countries  of  post- 
feudal  Europe  the  absolutist  regimes  were  restricted  not  so  much 
by  official  constitutions  as  by  the  actual  strength  of  the  landed 
nobility,  the  Church,  and  the  towns.  In  absolutist  Europe  all  these 
nongovernmental  forces  were  politically  organized  and  articulate. 
They  thus  differed  profoundly  from  the  representatives  of  landed 
property,  religion,  or  urban  professions  in  hydraulic  society. 

Some  of  these  groups  were  poorly  developed  in  the  Orient,  and 
none  of  them  congealed  into  political  bodies  capable  of  restricting 
the  hydraulic  regime.  The  Indian  scholar,  K.  V.  Rangaswami,  cor- 
rectly describes  the  situation  when,  in  his  discussion  of  Hindu  ab- 
solutism, he  defines  genuine  absolutism  as  "a  form  of  government  in 
which  all  the  powers  must  be  vested  in  the  hands  of  the  Ruler,  there 
being  no  other  concurrent  and  independent  authority,  habitually 
obeyed  by  the  people  as  much  as  he  is  obeyed,  and  which  lawfully 
resist  him  or  call  him  to  account."  9 

b.  The  So-called  Right  of  Rebellion 

The  lack  of  lawful  means  for  resisting  the  government  is  indeed  a 
significant  feature  of  despotism.  When  such  means  are  not  available, 
discontented  and  desperate  men  have  time  and  again  taken  up  arms 
against  their  government,  and  under  extreme  conditions  they  have 
succeeded  in  overthrowing  it  altogether.  Subsequently  the  new  rul- 
ers justified  their  procedure  by  juxtaposing  the  worthiness  of  their 
cause  to  the  un worthiness  of  the  former  regime;  and  the  historians 
and  philosophers  have  in  the  same  manner  explained  periodic  dy- 
nastic changes.  It  is  from  events  and  ideas  of  this  kind  that  the  so- 
called  right  of  rebellion  has  been  derived. 

The  term  "right  of  rebellion"  is  unfortunate  in  that  it  confuses  a 
legal  and  a  moral  issue.  The  official  discussions  on  the  rise  and  fall 
of  dynastic  power  were  presented  as  warnings  against  rebellious  ac- 
tion rather  than  as  guides  for  it;  and  they  were  certainly  not  incorpo- 
rated into  any  official  constitutional  regulations  or  laws.  The  right 
of  rebellion  could  be  exercised  only  when  the  existing  laws  were 
violated  and  at  the  risk  of  total  destruction  for  whoever  asserted  it. 

Traces  of  the  so-called  right  of  rebellion  can  be  found  in  virtu- 
ally all  hydraulic  societies.  Pueblo  folklore  proudly  relates  successful 
action  against  unworthy  caciques,10  and  revolutions  in  Bali  have 
been  so  justified.11  Hindu  and  Muslim  rulers  have  been  similarly 
warned — and  similarly  challenged.12  The  fact  that  in  China  the  right 
of  rebellion  was  formulated  in  the  Confucian  classics  did  as  little 
to  check  total  power  18  as  does  the  presence  in  the  USSR  of  Marx' 


and  Lenin's  writings,  which  postulate  revolutionary  action  against 

c.  Election  of  the  Despot — No  Remedy 

Nor  does  the  regime  become  less  despotic  because  the  ruler  attains 
his  position  through  election  rather  than  through  inheritance.  The 
transfer  of  title  and  authority  to  a  close  relative  of  the  deceased  sov- 
ereign, preferably  to  the  oldest  son,  favors  political  stability,  while 
election  favors  gifted  leadership.  The  first  principle  prevails  among 
the  indigenous  rulers  of  hydraulic  societies,  the  second  among  pas- 
toral or  other  peoples  who,  as  conquerors  of  such  societies,  fre- 
quently perpetuated  their  original  patterns  of  succession.14 

The  Byzantine  custom  of  determining  the  emperor  through  elec- 
tion goes  back  to  republican  Rome.  It  suited  the  conditions  of  the 
early  empire,  which,  being  largely  controlled  by  military  officials, 
chose  its  sovereigns  more  often  through  "the  army"  15  than  through 
the  top-ranking  body  of  civil  officials.  When,  from  Diocletian  on,  the 
Senate  took  a  more  prominent  part  in  the  election  of  the  emperor, 
the  political  center  of  gravity  shifted  from  the  military  to  the  civil 
branch  of  the  officialdom.6  Election  was  not  the  best  method  by 
which  to  establish  a  new  emperor,  but  wrapped  in  the  cloak  of  tra- 
dition and  legitimacy  it  proved  definitely  compatible  with  the  re- 
quirements of  bureaucratic  absolutism.0  And  the  frequent  changes 
in  the  person  of  the  supreme  leader  deprived  neither  his  position 
nor  the  bureaucratic  hierarchy,  which  he  headed,  of  its  despotic  char- 

In  ancient  Mexico  and  in  most  Chinese  dynasties  of  conquest  the 
new  ruler  was  elected  from  members  of  the  ruling  kin  group.  The 
procedure  combined  the  principle  of  inheritance  with  the  principle 
of  limited  choice;  and,  as  in  the  case  of  Byzantium,  those  who  made 
the  choice  were  top-ranking  members  of  the  political  hierarchy.  This 
arrangement  increased  the  political  opportunities  among  the  masters 
of  the  apparatus,  but  it  did  not  increase  the  authority  of  the  non- 
governmental forces  of  society. 

Two  nonhydraulic  parallels  may  aid  in  dispelling  the  misconcep- 
tion that  despotic  power  is  democratized  by  an  elective  system  of 
succession.  The  regime  of  Chingis  Khan,  which  was  perpetuated 

b.  The  Byzantine  Senate  was  nothing  but  "the  rallying-point  of  the  administrative 
aristocracy"  (Diehl,  1936:  729). 

c.  Dynastic  forms  of  government  crystallized  only  after  the  Byzantine  state  had 
lost  its  hydraulic  provinces. 

CHAPTER    4,    A  IO5 

through  limited  election,  remains  one  of  the  most  terrifying  exam- 
ples of  total  power.  And  the  transfer  of  leadership  from  one  member 
of  the  Bolshevik  Politburo  to  another  makes  the  Soviet  government 
temporarily  less  stable  but  certainly  not  more  democratic. 

Mommsen  called  the  state  of  Eastern  Rome  "an  autocracy  tem- 
pered by  a  revolution  which  is  legally  recognized  as  permanent." 16 
Bury  translates  Mommsen's  unwieldy  formulation  as  "an  autocracy 
tempered  by  the  legal  right  of  revolution."17  Both  phrasings  are 
problematic  because  they  imply  that  the  subjects  were  legally  en- 
titled to  replace  one  emperor  by  another.  Actually  no  such  right 
existed.  Diehl  recognizes  this  by  speaking  of  "an  autocracy  tempered 
by  revolution  and  assassination"; 18  and  Bury  admits  that  "there  was 
no  formal  process  of  deposing  a  sovran."  But  he  adds,  "the  members 
of  the  community  had  the  means  of  dethroning  him,  if  the  govern- 
ment failed  to  give  satisfaction,  by  proclaiming  a  new  emperor."19 

This  was  indeed  the  pattern  established  by  the  military  officials  of 
Eastern  Rome;  and  congruent  with  it,  usurpation  was  considered 
legitimate  if  and  when  it  was  successful.  That  is,  rebellion  becomes 
legal — post  festum.  Says  Bury:  "If  he  [the  pretender]  had  not  a  suffi- 
cient following  to  render  the  proclamation  effective  and  was  sup- 
pressed, he  was  treated  as  a  rebel."  20 

Thus,  in  Byzantium  as  in  other  states  of  the  hydraulic  world,  any- 
one might  try  to  usurp  power;  and  the  elective  nature  of  sovereignty 
combined  with  the  temporary  dominance  of  military  leadership  in- 
spired frequent  attempts  of  this  kind.  But  no  law  protected  such 
actions  while  they  were  being  undertaken.  In  Byzantium  persons  at- 
tacking the  existing  government  were  punished  with  barbarous  bru- 
tality.21 In  China  persons  caught  while  trying  to  exercise  the  right  of 
rebellion  were  executed.  Under  the  last  three  dynasties  they  were  cut 
to  pieces.22 

If  armed  conflict,  rebellion,  and  the  assassination  of  weak  rulers 
do  not  make  Oriental  despotism  more  democratic,  do  they  not  at 
least  give  the  populace  some  relief  from  oppression?  The  argument 
has  less  validity  than  may  appear  at  first  glance.  Such  diversions 
rarely  reduce  in  any  decisive  way  the  traditional  administrative  and 
judicial  pressures;  and  the  inclination  to  assert  supreme  leadership 
through  open  violence  is  more  than  likely  to  intensify  the  tendency 
to  brutality  among  those  in  power.  Furthermore,  the  devastations  of 
any  major  civil  war  generally  lay  increased  economic  burdens  on  the 
commoners.  The  frequent  occurrence  of  violence  within  the  ruling 
circles,  far  from  tempering  despotism,  tends  to  make  it  more  oppres- 


d.  Intragovernmental  Influences:  Absolutism  and  Autocracy 

But  are  there  perhaps  forces  inside  the  government  that  mitigate 
the  ruthlessness  of  agromanagerial  despotism?  This  question  focuses 
attention  on  the  relation  between  absolutism  and  autocracy.  Absolu- 
tism and  autocracy  are  not  identical,  but  they  interlock  closely.  A 
government  is  absolutist  when  its  rule  is  not  effectively  checked  by 
nongovernmental  forces.  The  ruler  of  an  absolutist  regime  is  an  auto- 
crat when  his  decisions  are  not  effectively  checked  by  intragovern- 
mental forces. 

The  absolutist  regimes  of  hydraulic  society  are  usually  d  headed  by 
a  single  individual  in  whose  person  is  concentrated  all  the  power 
over  major  decisions.  Why  is  this  so?  Do  the  great  water  works,  which 
characterize  the  core  areas  of  the  hydraulic  world  and  which  indeed 
require  centralized  direction,  necessitate  autocratic  leadership?  After 
all,  controlled  (democratic  or  aristocratic)  governments  also  initiate 
and  maintain  huge  public  enterprises.  They  muster  large  and  disci- 
plined armies  and/or  fleets;  and  they  operate  thus,  for  substantial 
periods  of  time,  without  developing  autocratic  patterns  of  rulership. 

Manifestly,  the  rise  of  autocratic  power  depends  on  more  than  the 
existence  of  large  state  enterprises.  In  all  hydraulic  societies  proper 
such  enterprises  play  a  considerable  role;  and  there,  as  well  as  in  the 
institutional  margin,  we  always  find  disciplined  armies  and  almost 
always,  also,  comprehensive  organizations  of  communication  and  in- 
telligence. But  there  is  no  technical  reason  why  these  various  enter- 
prises could  not  be  headed  by  several  leading  officials.  This  is  indeed 
the  case  in  controlled  governments,  whose  department  chiefs  are 
carefully  separated  from,  and  balanced  against,  one  another. 

However,  despotic  states  lack  appropriate  mechanics  of  outside 
control  and  internal  balance.  And  under  such  conditions  there  de- 
velops what  may  be  called  a  cumulative  tendency  of  unchecked  power. 
This  tendency  could  be  countered  if  all  major  subsections  of  author- 
ity were  more  or  less  equally  powerful.  It  could  be  countered  if  the 
chiefs  of  the  public  works,  of  the  army,  of  the  intelligence  service, 
and  of  the  revenue  system  were  more  or  less  equally  strong  in  terms 
of  organizational,  communicational,  and  coercive  power.  In  such  a 
case,  the  absolutist  regime  might  be  headed  by  a  balanced  oligarchy, 
a  "politburo,"  whose  members  would  actually,  and  more  or  less 
equally,  participate  in  the  exercise  of  supreme  authority.  However, 
the  organizational,  communicational,  and  coercive  power  of  the 
major  sectors  of  any  government  is  rarely,  if  ever,  so  balanced;  and 
under  absolutist  conditions  the  holder  of  the  strongest  position,  ben- 

d.  For  a  few  temporary  exceptions,  like  early  India,  see  below,  Chap.  8. 

CHAPTER    4,    A  107 

efiting  from  the  cumulative  tendency  of  unchecked  power,  tends  to 
expand  his  authority  through  alliances,  maneuvers,  and  ruthless 
schemes  until,  having  conquered  all  other  centers  of  supreme  deci- 
sion, he  alone  prevails. 

The  point  at  which  the  growth  of  government  functions  precludes 
effective  outside  control  differs  in  different  institutional  configura- 
tions. But  it  may  safely  be  said  that  whenever  this  critical  point  is 
passed,  the  cumulative  strength  of  superior  power  tends  to  result  in 
a  single  autocratic  center  of  organization  and  decision  making. 

The  crucial  importance  of  this  center  is  not  negated  by  the  fact 
that  the  supreme  power-holder  may  delegate  the  handling  of  his  af- 
fairs to  a  top-ranking  assistant,  a  vizier,  chancellor,  or  prime  minister. 
Nor  is  it  negated  by  the  fact  that  he  and/or  his  aide  may  lean  heav- 
ily for  advice  and  speedy  action  on  selected  groups  of  strategically 
placed  and  carefully  tested  officials.  The  governmental  apparatus  as 
a  whole  does  not  cease  to  be  absolutist  because  the  actual  center  of 
decision  making  temporarily,  and  often  in  a  veiled  manner,  shifts  to 
persons  or  groups  below  the  ruler. 

The  sovereign  of  an  agrobureaucratic  state  may  be  completely  un- 
der the  influence  of  his  courtiers  or  administrators;  but  such  influ- 
ence differs  qualitatively  from  the  institutional  checks  of  balanced 
power.  In  the  long  run  the  head  of  a  controlled  government  must 
adjust  to  the  effective  nongovernmental  forces  of  society,  while  the 
head  of  an  absolutist  regime  is  not  similarly  restricted.  Simple  self- 
interest  urges  any  intelligent  despot  to  listen  to  experienced  persons. 
Councillors  have  existed  in  most  agromanagerial  civilizations,  and 
not  infrequently  councils  were  a  standard  feature  of  government.  But 
the  ruler  was  under  no  compulsion  to  accept  their  suggestions.23 

Whether  the  sovereign  was  his  own  chief  executive,  whether  he 
delegated  many  of  his  functions  to  a  vizier,  or  whether  he  or  his 
vizier  largely  followed  the  advice  of  official  and  nonofficial  advisors 
depended,  in  addition  to  custom  and  circumstance,  on  the  personali- 
ties of  the  ruler  and  his  aides.  But  despite  significant  bureaucratic 
attempts  to  subordinate  the  absolutist  sovereign  to  the  control  of  his 
officialdom,  the  ruler  could  always  rule,  if  he  was  determined  to  do 
so.  The  great  monarchs  of  the  Oriental  world  were  almost  without 
exception  "self-rulers" — autocrats. 

3.  Laws  of  Nature  and  Patterns  of  Culture — No 
Effective  Checks  Either 

Serious  observers  do  not  generally  contest  these  facts.  However,  not 
a  few  among  them  seek  to  minimize  their  significance  by  reference 


to  mores  and  beliefs,  which  are  assumed  to  restrict  even  the  most 
tyrannical  regime. 

Mores  and  beliefs  do  indeed  play  a  role;  and  so,  for  that  matter, 
do  the  laws  of  nature.  However,  the  potential  victims  of  despotic 
power  seem  to  find  little  consolation  in  either  fact.  They  know  that 
their  masters'  behavior,  like  their  own,  is  affected  by  the  laws  of  na- 
ture and  by  more  or  less  firmly  established  cultural  circumstances. 
But  they  know  also  that,  nevertheless  and  in  the  last  analysis,  their 
fate  will  be  determined  by  the  will  of  those  who  wield  total  power. 

The  mechanics  of  administration  and  coercion  depend  on  man's 
insight  into  the  laws  of  nature  and  his  ability  to  use  them.  A  despotic 
regime  will  proceed  in  one  way  in  the  neolithic  period,  in  another 
in  the  iron  age,  and  in  still  another  in  our  own  time.  But  in  each 
case  the  ruling  group  asserts  its  total  superiority  under  the  then 
actual  natural  conditions  and  by  means  of  the  then  available  tech- 
nology. The  victim  of  a  crude  form  of  despotism  does  not  consider 
his  persecutors  less  powerful  because,  under  more  advanced  technical 
conditions,  they  may  catch  and  destroy  him  by  different  methods 
or  with  greater  speed. 

Nor  does  he  doubt  their  absolute  superiority  because  they  act  in 
conformity  with  prevailing  cultural  patterns.  Such  patterns  always 
shape  the  manner  in  which  the  ruler  (and  his  subjects)  act;  and 
occasionally  they  mitigate  or  prolong  governmental  procedures  at 
particular  stages.  But  they  do  not  prevent  the  government  from 
ultimately  achieving  its  goal.  The  fact  that  in  many  countries  persons 
under  sentence  of  death  are  normally  not  executed  in  certain 
seasons  or  on  certain  days  2*  does  not  mean  that  they  escape  their 
doom.  And  the  fact  that  a  dominant  religion  praises  acts  of  mercy 
does  not  mean  that  it  refrains  from  invoking  measures  of  extreme 

The  potential  victim  of  despotic  persecution  knows  full  well  that 
the  natural  and  cultural  settings,  whatever  temporary  respites  they 
may  provide,  do  not  prevent  his  final  destruction.  The  despotic 
ruler's  power  over  his  subjects  is  no  less  total  because  it  is  limited 
by  factors  that  mold  human  life  in  every  type  of  society. 


The  power  of  hydraulic  despotism  is  unchecked  ("total"),  but  it 
does  not  operate  everywhere.  The  life  of  most  individuals  is  far 
from  being  completely  controlled  by  the  state;  and  there  are  many 
villages  and  other  corporate  units  that  are  not  totally  controlled 

CHAPTER    4,    B  10g 

What  keeps  despotic  power  from  asserting  its  authority  in  all 
spheres  of  life?  Modifying  a  key  formula  of  classical  economics,  we 
may  say  that  the  representatives  of  the  hydraulic  regime  act  (or 
refrain  from  acting)  in  response  to  the  law  of  diminishing  adminis- 
trative returns. 

1.  The  Managerial  Variant  of  the  Law  of 
Changing  Administrative  Returns 

The  law  of  diminishing  administrative  returns  is  one  aspect  of  what 
may  be  called  the  law  of  changing  administrative  returns.1  Varying 
efforts  produce  varying  results  not  only  in  a  property-based  business 
economy  °  but  also  in  governmental  enterprise.  This  fact  affects 
decisively  both  the  political  economy  and  the  range  of  state  control 
in  hydraulic  society. 

a.  Hydraulic  Agriculture:  the  Law  of  Increasing 
Administrative  Returns 

In  a  landscape  characterized  by  full  aridity  permanent  agriculture 
becomes  possible  only  if  and  when  coordinated  human  action  trans- 
fers a  plentiful  and  accessible  water  supply  from  its  original  loca- 
tion to  a  potentially  fertile  soil.  When  this  is  done,  government-led 
hydraulic  enterprise  is  identical  with  the  creation  of  agricultural 
life.  This  first  and  crucial  moment  may  therefore  be  designated  as 
the  "administrative  creation  point." 

Having  access  to  sufficient  arable  land  and  irrigation  water,  the 
hydraulic  pioneer  society  tends  to  establish  statelike  forms  of  public 
control.  Now  economic  budgeting  becomes  one-sided  and  planning 
bold.  New  projects  are  undertaken  on  an  increasingly  large  scale, 
and  if  necessary  without  concessions  to  the  commoners.  The  men 
whom  the  government  mobilized  for  corvee  service  may  see  no 
reason  for  a  further  expansion  of  the  hydraulic  system;  but  the 
directing  group,  confident  of  further  advantage,  goes  ahead  never- 
theless. Intelligently  carried  out,  the  new  enterprises  may  involve  a 
relatively  small  additional  expense,  but  they  may  yield  a  con- 
spicuously swelling  return.  Such  an  encouraging  discrepancy  ob- 
viously provides  a  great  stimulus  for  further  governmental  action. 

b.  The  Laiu  of  Balanced  Administrative  Returns 

The  expansion  of  government-directed  hydraulic  enterprise  usually 
slows   down    when    administrative    costs    approach    administrative 

a.  Significantly,  the  law  of  diminishing  returns  has  so  far  been  studied  primarily  in 
connection  with  private  economy  (see  Clark,  1937:  145  ff.). 


benefits.  The  upward  movement  has  then  reached  "Saturation  Point 
'A*  (Ascent)."  Beyond  this  point  further  expansion  may  yield  addi- 
tional rewards  more  or  less  in  proportion  to  additional  administra- 
tive effort;  but  when  the  major  potentials  of  water  supply,  soil,  and 
location  are  exhausted,  the  curve  reaches  "Saturation  point  'D' 
(Descent)."  The  zone  between  Points  "A"  and  "D"  is  characterized 
by  what  may  be  called  the  law  of  balanced  administrative  returns. 

c.  The  Law  of  Diminishing  Administrative  Returns 

Whether  Saturation  Points  "A"  and  "D"  are  close  together  or  far 
apart,  or  whether  they  coincide,  any  move  beyond  this  zone  of 
balanced  returns  carries  man's  action  into  an  area  of  discouraging 
discrepancy.  Here  similar,  and  even  increased,  administrative  en- 
deavors cost  more  than  they  yield.  It  is  under  these  conditions  that 
we  observe  the  workings  of  the  law  of  diminishing  administrative 
returns.  The  downward  movement  is  completed  when  additional 
outlay  yields  no  additional  reward  whatsoever.  We  have  then 
reached  the  absolute  administrative  frustration  point. 

d.  Ideal  Curve  and  Reality  of  Changing  Returns 

This  ideal  curve  does  not  describe  the  development  of  any  specific 
government-directed  system  of  water  works  in  any  specific  hydraulic 
society.  It  indicates  in  a  schematic  way  the  critical  points  through 
which  any  hydraulic  enterprise  passes,  if  it  moves  steadily  through 
all  zones  of  growing  and  shrinking  returns. 

Rarely,  if  ever,  do  the  actual  and  the  ideal  curves  coincide. 
Geology,  meteorology,  potamology,  and  historical  circumstance  make 
for  countless  variations.  Progress  toward  saturation  and  beyond  may 
be  interrupted  by  longer  or  shorter  countermovements.  But  every 
section  of  the  curve  reflects  a  genuine  trend;  and  the  entire  curve 
combines  these  trends  to  indicate  all  possible  major  phases  of 
creation  and  frustration  in  hydraulic  enterprise. 

e.  Nonhydraulic  Spheres  of  Political  Economy 

In  the  sphere  of  agricultural  production  itself,  coordinated  and 
government-directed  action  yields  increasing  administrative  returns 
only  under  primitive  and  special  conditions.  It  is  only  in  techno- 
logically crude  hydraulic  societies  that  mass  labor  on  "public"  fields 
prevails.  And  even  in  these  societies  the  government  does  not  try 
to  assume  managerial  direction  over  the  fields  which  have  been  set 
aside  for  the  support  of  the  individual  farmer.  In  a  technically  more 

CHAPTER    4,    B  111 

advanced  setting,  the  administrative  creation  point  and  the  adminis- 
trative frustration  point  tend  to  coincide.  For  there  the  hydraulic 
regime  prefers  to  refrain  altogether  from  agricultural  production, 
which  from  the  standpoint  of  administrative  returns  is  more  reason- 
ably handled  by  many  small  individual  farming  units. 

Of  course,  political  needs  take  precedence  over  economic  consider- 
ations. The  great  agromanagerial  enterprises  of  communication  and 
defense  are  cases  in  point,  as  are  certain  government-run  workshops 
(arsenals,  shipyards).  However,  the  hydraulic  regime's  reluctance  to 
assume  direct  control  over  the  finishing  industries  derives  from  the 
realization  that  in  this  field  state  management  would  involve  deficits 
rather  than  gains.  In  hydraulic  as  well  as  in  other  agrarian  societies 
the  government  is  therefore  satisfied  to  leave  the  bulk  of  all  handi- 
craft to  small  individual  producers. 

2.   The  Power  Variant  of  the  Law  of  Changing 
Administrative  Returns 

a.  Imperative  and  Worth-while  Efforts 

It  is  easy  to  recognize  the  workings  of  the  law  of  changing  adminis- 
trative returns  also  in  the  sphere  of  political  power.  The  efforts  of  the 
hydraulic  regime  to  maintain  uncontested  military  and  police  con- 
trol over  the  population  prove  increasingly  rewarding  until  all 
independent  centers  of  coercion  are  destroyed.  The  expenses  incurred 
in  supporting  speedy  communications  and  intelligence  follow  a 
similar  pattern;  and  the  expansion  of  fiscal  and  judicial  action  ap- 
pears reasonable  as  long  as  it  satisfies  the  rulers'  desire  for  uncon- 
tested political  and  social  hegemony. 

Some  of  these  operations  are  imperative,  others  at  least  worth 
while.  But  carried  beyond  Saturation  Point  "D",  they  all  become 
problematic.  The  discouraging  discrepancy  between  continued  en- 
deavor and  decreasing  political  rewards  makes  the  government 
reluctant  to  use  its  apparatus  much  below  this  point. 

b.  The  Forbidding  Cost  of  Total  Social  Control  in  a 
Semimanagerial  Society 

The  developed  industrial  apparatus  state  of  the  USSR  has  crushed 
all  independent  nationwide  organizations  (military,  political,  pro- 
prietary, religious);  and  its  total  managerial  economy  permits  the 
establishment  of  innumerable  bureaucratic  bases  for  controlling  all 
secondary  (local)  professional  groupings  and  even  the  thought  and 
behavior  of  individuals.  The  hydraulic  apparatus  state  does  not 


have  equal  facilities.  It  is  strong  enough  to  prevent  the  growth  of 
effective  primary  organizations;  and  in  doing  so,  it  brings  about  that 
one-sided  concentration  of  power  which  distinguishes  it  from  the 
ancient  and  medieval  agrarian  societies  of  the  West.  But  being  only 
semimanagerial,  it  lacks  the  ubiquitous  bases  which  enable  the  men 
of  the  apparatus  to  extend  their  total  control  over  secondary  organi- 
zations and  individual  subjects.  In  the  USSR  such  total  control  was 
initiated  through  the  nationalization  of  agriculture  (the  "collectiviza- 
tion" of  the  villages);  and  it  was  accomplished  through  the  pulveri- 
zation of  all  nongovernmental  human  relations.  Hydraulic  society 
never  made  the  first  step,  and  it  therefore  never  laid  the  foundations 
for  the  second. 

To  be  sure,  the  notion  of  a  ubiquitous  control  also  attracted  the 
master  minds  of  hydraulic  despotism.  Garcilaso  de  la  Vega,  a  scion 
of  native  royalty,  claimed  that  under  Inca  rule  special  officials  went 
from  house  to  house  to  make  sure  that  everybody  was  kept  busy. 
Idlers  were  punished  by  blows  on  the  arms  and  legs  "and  other 
penalties  prescribed  by  the  law."  2  The  great  Chinese  "Utopia"  of 
bureaucratic  government,  the  Chou  Li,  lists  several  officials  who, 
in  a  well-managed  state,  should  regulate  the  people's  life  in  village 
and  town. 

There  is  no  reason  to  doubt  that  the  Incas  wanted  their  subjects 
to  work  as  much  as  possible;  but  any  effective  inspection  of  the 
commoners'  domestic  life  would  have  required  an  army  of  officials, 
which  would  have  eaten  up  a  great  part  of  the  public  revenue  with- 
out providing  a  compensatory  increase  in  income.  It  is  therefore  hard 
to  believe  that  the  "laws"  mentioned  by  Garcilaso  went  far  beyond 
a  general — and  therefore  not  too  costly — supervision.  The  same  may 
be  said  for  the  classic  book  of  Chinese  bureaucracy.  All  educated 
Chinese  officials  studied  the  Chou  Li;  but  once  in  office,  they  soon 
learned  to  distinguish  between  the  sweet  dream  of  total  social  con- 
trol and  the  sober  administrative  reality.  Except  for  some  short-lived 
attempts  at  extreme  interference,  they  were  content  to  maintain  firm 
control  over  the  strategically  important  spheres  of  their  society. 

c.  Total  Social  Control  Not  Necessary  for  the  Perpetuation 
of  Agromanagerial  Despotism 

To  say  that  the  law  of  diminishing  administrative  returns  dis- 
courages the  hydraulic  state  from  attempting  to  control  individuals 
and  secondary  organizations  totally  is  only  another  way  of  saying 
that  the  government  feels  no  fundamental  need  to  do  so.  If  it  were 
otherwise — that  is,  if  total  control  were  imperative  for  the  perpetua- 

CHAPTER    4,    B  113 

tion  of  the  despotic  regime — the  rulers  might  have  to  spend  all 
their  income  to  be  safe.  Obviously,  such  a  power  system  would  be 

Historical  experience  shows  that  during  long  periods  of  "peace  and 
order"  the  hydraulic  rulers  can  maintain  themselves  without  resort- 
ing to  excessively  costly  measures.  It  also  shows  that  under  "normal" 
conditions  they  need  not  make  severe  material  sacrifices.  Except  in 
times  of  unrest,  they  are  adequately  protected  by  their  wide-flung 
network  of  intelligence  and  coercion,  which  successfully  blocks  the 
rise  of  independent  nationwide  primary  organizations  and  prevents 
discontented  individuals  or  secondary  organizations  from  gaining 

The  political  crises  that  develop  periodically  may  be  caused  in 
part  by  the  dissatisfaction  of  such  individuals  and  organizations.8 
But  serious  unrest,  whatever  its  origin,  soon  assumes  a  military  form, 
and  it  is  combated  by  outright  military  measures.  Responding  to 
the  law  of  diminishing  administrative  returns,  the  masters  of  the 
agrarian  apparatus  state  run  the  risk  of  occasional  uprisings  and  do 
what  their  modern  industrial  successors  do  not  have  to  do:  they 
grant  a  certain  amount  of  freedom  to  most  individuals  and  to  certain 
secondary  organizations. 

3.  Sectors  of  Individual  Freedom  in 
Hydraulic  Society 

a.  Limitations  of  Managerial  Control 

The  duration  of  the  state  corvee  determines  the  period  during 
which  a  member  of  hydraulic  society  is  deprived  of  his  freedom  of 
action.  The  corvee  may  have  many  objectives,  but  it  must  allow 
the  mass  of  the  laborers — the  peasants — sufficient  time  to  attend 
to  their  own  economic  affairs.  Of  course,  even  in  the  villages  the 
peasants  may  have  to  submit  to  a  policy  of  economic  planning,  but 
at  most  this  policy  involves  only  a  few  major  tasks,  such  as  plowing, 
sowing,  harvesting,  and  perhaps  the  choice  of  the  main  crop.  Often 
it  does  not  go  this  far;  and  at  times  it  may  be  altogether  absent. 

Under  conditions  of  advanced  technology  the  corvee  also  tends 
to  change  and  shrink.  Work  on  the  public  fields  may  be  replaced 
by  a  tax;  and  larger  or  smaller  segments  of  the  nonagricultural  corvee 
may  be  similarly  commuted. 

But  whatever  the  character  of  the  rural  communities  and  whatever 
the  duration  of  the  public  labor  service  may  be,  there  are  definite 
and  at  times  considerable  periods  in  the  peasant's  life  during  which 


he  proceeds  at  his  own  discretion.  This  is  still  more  true  for  the 
nonagrarian  commoners.  Artisans  and  traders  who,  in  a  differentiated 
societal  setting,  pursue  their  occupations  professionally  and  pri- 
vately *  may  become  more  valuable  as  taxpayers  than  as  corvee 
laborers.  Their  freedom  of  movement  will  increase  correspondingly. 
Marx  speaks  of  the  "general  slavery"  of  the  Orient.  According  to 
him,  this  type  of  slavery,  which  is  inherent  in  man's  attachment 
to  the  hydraulic  commonwealth  and  state,5  differs  essentially  from 
Western  slavery  and  serfdom.6  The  merit  of  Marx'  formula  lies  in 
the  problem  it  raises  rather  than  in  the  answer  it  gives.  A  person 
commandeered  to  toil  for  an  "Asiatic"  state  is  a  slave  of  the  state  as 
long  as  he  is  so  occupied.  He  is  perfectly  aware  of  the  lack  of  free- 
dom, which  this  condition  involves,  and  he  is  equally  aware  of  the 
pleasure  of  working  for  himself.  Compared  with  the  total  state 
slavery  of  the  total  managerial  industrial  society,  the  partial  state 
slavery  of  the  partial  managerial  hydraulic  society  makes  indeed 
considerable  concessions  to  human  freedom. 

b.  Limitations  of  Thought  Control 

A  comparable  tendency  to  make  concessions  arises  also  in  the 
sphere  of  thought  control.  To  appreciate  fully  what  this  means,  we 
must  understand  the  enormous  stress  that  the  masters  of  the  hydrau- 
lic state  place  on  the  society's  dominant  ideas.  The  close  coordina- 
tion of  secular  and  religious  authority  makes  it  easy  to  apply  this 
stress  to  both  the  higher  and  the  lower  strata  of  society.  The  sons 
of  the  dominant  elite  are  generally  educated  by  representatives  of 
the  dominant  creed;  and  the  whole  population  is  in  continued  and 
government-promoted  contact  with  the  state-attached  temples  and 
their  priesthoods. 

Education  usually  is  a  long  process,  and  its  influence  is  profound. 
In  India  the  young  Brahmin  who  prepared  himself  for  priestly 
office  had  to  study  one,  two,  or  all  three  Vedas,  applying  himself  to 
each  one  of  them  for  twelve  long  years.  And  the  members  of  the 
"protecting"  Kshatriya  caste,  and  even  those  of  the  next  lower  caste, 
the  Vaisya,  were  also  advised  to  study  the  Sacred  Books.6  In  China 
"learning" — the  study  of  the  canonical  (classical)  writings — was  al- 
ready considered  a  basic  prerequisite  for  administrative  office  in 
Confucius'  time.7  Increasing  systematization  led  to  the  holding  of 

b.  Marx  assumed  that  from  the  European  point  of  view,  in  this  general  Asiatic 
slavery,  the  laborer  seems  to  be  a  natural  condition  of  production  for  a  third  person 
or  a  community,  as  under  [private-property-based]  slavery  and  serfdom,  but  that 
actually  "this  is  not  the  case"  (Marx,  1939:  395). 

CHAPTER    4,    B  115 

elaborate  and  graded  examinations,  which  fostered  perpetual  ideo- 
logical alertness  in  all  energetic  and  ambitious  young,  and  in  many 
middle-aged  and  even  elderly,  members  of  the  ruling  class. 

But  the  same  societal  forces  that  led  to  the  systematic  perpetua- 
tion of  the  dominant  ideas  also  encouraged  a  variety  of  secondary 
religions.  Many  simple  hydraulic  civilizations  tolerated  independ- 
ent diviners  and  sorcerers,8  whose  artisan-like  small-scale  activities 
modestly  supplemented  the  coordinated  operations  of  the  leading 
tribal  or  national  creed.  Under  more  complex  conditions,  ideo- 
logical divergence  tended  to  increase.  Often  the  subject  of  a  hydraulic 
state  might  adhere  to  a  secondary  religion  without  endangering  his 
life.  Non-Brahministic  creeds,  such  as  Jainism  or  Buddhism,  are 
documented  for  India  from  the  first  millennium  b.c.  Buddhism  per- 
sisted in  traditional  China,  despite  temporary  persecutions,  for  al- 
most two  thousand  years.  And  the  Islamic  Near  East,  India,  and 
Central  Asia  were  similarly  indulgent. 

In  the  ideological  as  in  the  managerial  sphere,  the  policies  of  the 
agrarian  apparatus  state  contrast  strikingly  with  policies  of  the 
modern  industrial  apparatus  states,  which,  while  feigning  respect 
for  traditional  ("national")  culture  and  religion,  spread  the  Marxist- 
Leninist  doctrine  with  the  avowed  aim  of  eventually  annihilating 
all  other  ideologies.  Again,  the  difference  between  their  policies  is 
not  due  to  any  innate  tolerance  on  the  part  of  the  agrobureaucratic 
rulers,  whose  insistence  on  the  unique  position  of  the  dominant 
religion  is  always  uncompromising  and  frequently  ruthless.  But  the 
law  of  diminishing  administrative  returns  places  an  exorbitant  price 
on  the  attempt  to  maintain  total  ideological  control  in  a  differ- 
entiated semimanagerial  society.  And  here,  as  in  the  operational 
sector,  experience  shows  that  the  absolutist  regime  can  perpetuate 
itself  without  making  so  costly  an  effort. 

4.  Groups  Enjoying  Varying  Degrees  of  Autonomy 

Experience  shows  still  more.  It  assures  the  hydraulic  rulers  that 
they  may — for  the  same  reasons — permit  some  autonomy  not  only 
to  their  individual  subjects  but  to  certain  secondary  groups  as  well. 
In  referring  to  heterodox  creeds,  we  are  aware  that  their  adherents 
are  usually  permitted  to  establish  congregations,  which  support 
either  individual  priests  or  larger  or  smaller  priesthoods.  Since  the 
early  days  of  written  history,  the  artisans  and  traders  of  hydraulic 
civilizations  have  formed  professional  organizations  (guilds).  More 
ancient  still  are  the  village  communities,  which  have  probably  existed 
as  long  as  hydraulic  civilization  itself.  Kin  groups  are  institutionally 


older  than  agriculture;  and  like  the  village  community,  they  are 
present  everywhere  in  the  hydraulic  world. 

These  types  of  associations  differ  greatly  in  distribution,  composi- 
tion, quality,  and  purpose.  But  they  have  one  thing  in  common.  All 
of  them  are  tolerated  by  the  despotic  regime.  Many  supervisory 
measures  notwithstanding,  they  are  not  subjected  to  total  control. 

a.  Less  Independence  than  Frequently  Assumed 

Romantic  observers  have  taken  the  absence  of  such  control  as 
evidence  for  the  existence  of  genuine  democratic  institutions  in  the 
lower  echelons  of  hydraulic  society.  In  this  form,  the  claim  cannot 
be  accepted.  Throughout  the  hydraulic  world,  government  authority 
and  family  authority  are  interlinked;  and  measures  of  political  con- 
trol affect  the  majority  of  all  villages,  guilds,  and  secondary  religious 

Parallels  can  be  found  in  other  agrarian  societies  for  most  of  these 
restrictive  trends.  (The  free  guilds  of  feudal  Europe  are  as  ex- 
ceptional as  they  are  significant.)  This,  however,  is  not  the  issue 
here.  What  we  are  concerned  with  is  whether,  in  contrast  to  corre- 
sponding developments  in  other  despotic  states — and  also  in  contrast 
to  restrictive  developments  in  other  agrarian  civilizations — the  sec- 
ondary organizations  of  hydraulic  society  were  genuinely  autono- 
mous. The  answer  to  the  question  is  "No." 

i.   THE   FAMILY 

The  family  of  traditional  China  has  often  been  said  to  be  the 
institution  that  gave  Chinese  society  its  peculiar  character  and 
strength.  This  thesis  is  correct  insofar  as  it  stresses  the  family  as  a 
basic  component  of  society;  but  it  is  misleading  insofar  as  it  implies 
that  the  family  determined  the  quality  and  power  of  the  institutional 
setting  of  which  it  was  a  part. 

The  authority  of  the  Chinese  pater  familias  was  much  stronger 
than  intrafamilial  leadership  required; e  and  he  owed  his  extraor- 
dinary power  essentially  to  the  backing  of  the  despotic  state.  Dis- 
obedience to  his  orders  was  punished  by  the  government.9  On  the 
other  hand,  the  local  officials  could  have  him  beaten  and  imprisoned, 
if  he  was  unable  to  keep  the  members  of  his  family  from  violating 
the  law.10  Acting  as  a  liturgical  (semi-official)  policeman  of  his  kin 
group,  he  can  scarcely  be  considered  the  autonomous  leader  of  an 
autonomous  unit. 

c.  For  the  nongovernmental  roots  of  paternal  authority  in  the  Chinese  family  see 
Wittfogel,  1935:  49;  ibid.,  1936:  506  ff. 

CHAPTER    4,    B  liy 

The  Babylonian  father,  who  could  place  his  wife,  son,  or  daughter 
in  the  service  of  a  third  person  for  several  years,11  also  owed  his 
power  to  the  government  which  backed  him  up  in  his  decision. 
Whether  he  was  legally  responsible  for  the  behavior  of  the  family 
members  is  not  clear. 

The  patria  potestas  of  ancient  Egypt  has  been  compared  with  that 
of  Rome.  The  strongly  militarized  society  of  republican  Rome  did 
indeed  encourage  the  development  of  highly  authoritarian  family 
relations;  but  the  Egyptian  father  seems  to  have  had  still  greater 
power  than  his  Roman  counterpart.* 

In  the  Islamic  world,  respect  for  the  parents  is  prescribed  by  the 
Sacred  Law;  12  and  the  degree  to  which  paternal  authority  operated, 
particularly  in  the  villages,  may  be  judged  from  the  fact  that  in 
such  countries  as  Syria  the  father  customarily  was  the  master  over  his 
family  until  his  death.13 

The  Law  Books  of  India  give  the  father  an  almost  kinglike  power 
over  members  of  his  kin  group.14  Despite  several  restrictions,16  his 
authority  over  his  wife  and  children  seems  to  have  been  extremely 

Evidently  the  father's  power  varied  notably  in  different  hydraulic 
civilizations.  But  almost  everywhere  the  government  was  inclined 
to  raise  it  above  the  level  suggested  by  his  leadership  functions  in 
the  family. 

ii.    THE    VILLAGE 

Generally  the  villages  of  hydraulic  civilizations  are  under  the 
jurisdiction  of  headmen  who  are  either  government-appointed  or 
elected  by  their  fellow  villagers.  Appointment  seems  to  be  frequent 
in  the  regulated  rural  communities  of  compactly  hydraulic  civiliza- 
tions, whereas  free  choice  is  more  apt  to  be  permitted  in  less 
compactly  hydraulic  societies.  In  Inca  Peru  the  local  officials  down 
to  the  lowest  functionary — the  head  of  ten  families — was  appointed.18 
In  pre-Conquest  Mexico,  too,  the  village  land  was  communally 
regulated.  But  its  agrarian  economy  was  much  less  bureaucratized 

d.  Dr.  Taubenschlag's  assertion  that  the  Egyptian  father's  right  to  sell  his  child  has  a 
Roman  counterpart  is  documented  only  for  "the  fourth  century"  (Taubenschlag,  1944: 
103  ff.). 

e.  Jolly,  1896:  78.  At  the  beginning  of  the  19th  century,  Dubois  (1943:  307  ff.)  found 
the  authority  of  the  Brahmins  enormous,  whereas  paternal  authority  was  weak.  The 
author  lived  in  India  from  1792  to  1823.  Assuming  that  he  observed  the  phenomenon 
correctly,  we  are  at  a  loss  to  explain  it.  Was  it,  at  least  in  part,  due  to  the  turmoil 
of  the  time? 


than  that  of  the  Inca  empire.  The  heads  of  the  Mexican  local  ad- 
ministrative units,  the  calpulli,  were  elected.17 

However,  this  correlation  does  not  prevail  generally,  perhaps  be- 
cause appointment  is  only  one  among  several  ways  of  controlling  a 
local  functionary.  Almost  everywhere  the  hydraulic  government 
holds  the  headman  responsible  for  the  obligations  of  his  co-villagers. 
It  thus  places  him  in  a  position  of  state  dependency.  Where  land  is 
communally  held  and  where  taxes  are  communally  paid,  the  village 
headman  is  likely  to  wield  considerable  power.  Assisted  by  a  scribe 
and  one  or  several  policemen,  he  may  become  something  of  a  local 

The  inscriptions  of  the  early  Near  East  show  the  regional  officials 
actively  concerned  with  plowing  and  the  collection  of  the  reve- 
nue; 1S  but  we  are  unable  to  get  a  clear  picture  of  how  the  village 
functionaries  fitted  into  the  administrative  nexus.19  As  in  other 
spheres  of  life,  the  Persians  and  their  Hellenistic  and  Roman  succes- 
sors may  well  have  perpetuated  an  earlier  village  pattern.  In 
Ptolemaic  and  Roman  Egypt  the  leading  village  official,  the  scribe, 
assisted  by  the  elders,  executed  his  government-imposed  tasks.20 
These  men,  no  matter  whether  they  were  appointed  21  or  elected 
like  the  elders,22  were  all  "directly  dependent  on  the  central  govern- 
ment .  .  .  they  all  especially  obeyed  the  strategos  of  the  district."  23 

The  data  for  Roman  Syria  seem  to  suggest  considerable  popular 
participation  in  village  affairs,24  whereas  the  Egyptian  village  officials 
probably  acted  in  a  very  authoritarian  manner.  But  this  divergence 
must  not  make  us  overlook  the  basic  similarities  that  existed  through- 
out the  ancient  Near  East  in  village  organization  and  government 
dependency.25  In  Hellenistic  times,26  as  previously,  the  "royal" 
villagers  were  attached  to  the  land  they  cultivated.27  It  therefore 
seems  safe  to  conclude  that  in  the  pre-Roman  as  well  as  in  the  Roman 
period  the  peasants  of  Syria  and  Asia  Minor  did  not  administer  their 
villages  autonomously. 

In  Arab  Egypt,  as  in  Byzantine  Egypt,28  the  village  administration 
was  in  the  hands  of  a  headman  and  the  elders.  Under  the  Arabs 
the  headman,  who  possibly  was  nominated  by  the  peasants  and  con- 
firmed by  the  government,29  seems  to  have  apportioned  and  collected 
the  tax.30  He  designated  the  corvee  laborers  and  exercised  police  and 
judicial  functions.81 

In  the  Arab  provinces  of  the  Turkish  Near  East  the  village  head- 
man (sheikh)  assisted  the  official  and  semi-official  representatives  of 
the  government  in  allocating  the  tax.32  He  "policed  the  fellahs  who 
cultivated  the  lands  under  his  charge,  and  the  principal  seyh  acted 
as  magistrate  and  arbitrator,  with  authority  not  only  over  the  culti- 

CHAPTER    4,    B  lig 

vators  but  over  all  the  inhabitants."  3S  Controlling  "his"  peasants  in 
an  arbitrary  way  and  being  in  turn  controlled  with  equal  severity  by 
the  state  bureaucracy,84  he  certainly  was  not  the  representative  of  a 
free  rural  village  community. 

In  India  the  village  headman  may  have  been  elected  originally;  s5 
but  from  the  time  of  the  later  Law  Books  on — that  is,  from  the  end 
of  the  first  millennium  B.C. — his  appointment  is  documented.36  As 
the  king's  representative  in  the  villages,  who  "collected  taxes  for 
him"  87  and  who  also  fulfilled  policing  and  judicial  functions,88  the 
headman  held  a  position  of  authority  not  dissimilar  to  that  enjoyed 
by  his  Near  Eastern  counterpart.  Muslim  rule  did  not  fundamentally 
change  this  administratively  convenient  arrangement,  which  in  fact 
persisted  in  the  majority  of  all  Indian  villages  up  to  modern  times.89 

In  China  the  regulated  village  yielded  to  a  property-based  pattern 
more  than  two  thousand  years  ago.  The  duties  of  the  village  officials 
shrank  correspondingly,  but  they  did  not  disappear  altogether.  At 
the  close  of  the  imperial  period  most  sizable  villages  had  at  least  two 
functionaries,  a  headman,  chuang  chang,  and  a  local  constable,  t i  fang 
or  ti  pao.40  The  headman,  who  was  usually  chosen  by  the  villagers, 
executed  the  directing,  and  the  constable,  who  usually  was  govern- 
ment appointed/  the  coercive,  functions  of  the  village  government. 
They  cooperated  in  their  official  tasks:  the  collection  of  taxes  and 
materials  for  public  constructions,  the  organizing  and  directing  of 
corvee  services  ("government  transportation  .  .  .  work  on  river- 
banks,  patrols  for  the  Imperial  roads"  etc.),41  and  the  making  of 
intelligence  reports.42 

All  these  activities  linked  the  headman  to  the  central  government, 
although  he  was  not  part  of  its  bureaucracy."  The  villagers  found  it 
hard  to  bring  a  complaint  against  him,  even  if  their  case  was  good, 
for  he  monopolized  communication  with  the  district  magistracy.43 
The  constable  was  controlled  by  the  county  officials.  They  could 

/.  According  to  Smith  (1899:  227).  the  candidates  for  this  position  were  "not  formally 
chosen,  nor  formally  deposed."  Instead  they  used  to  "drop  into  their  places"  as  the 
result  of  what  Smith  calls  "a  kind  of  natural  selection." 

It  would  probably  be  better  to  speak  of  an  informal  election  based  on  an  under- 
standing between  all  family  heads  of  some  standing.  Dr.  K.  C.  Hsiao,  who  has  almost 
completed  his  comprehensive  study,  Rural  China,  Imperial  Control  in  the  Nineteenth 
Century,  ascribes  "a  certain  amount  of  informal  local  influence  on  village  leader- 
ship," especially  that  of  "wealthy  or  gentry  families."  But  he  finds  it  impossible  to 
give  quantitative  data  about  "the  proportion  of  government-appointed  village  head- 
men (pao-chang,  chia-chang,  etc.;  and  later,  chuang-chang,  ti-pao,  ti-fang,  etc.)."  He 
adds:  "The  official  scheme  called  for  universal  institution  of  such  headmen,  wherever 
rural  communities  existed"  (letter  of  January  15,  1954). 

g.  Usually  the  village  paid  him  a  salary  (Werner,  1910:  106  ff.).  In  addition  there 
were  the  usual  material  advantages  inherent  in  the  handling  of  public  money. 


have  him  "beaten  to  a  jelly"  for  neglecting  his  duty  as  a  local  in- 
telligence agent.44 

The  villages  of  imperial  China  were  less  strictly  controlled  than 
those  of  pre-Conquest  Peru,  India,  and  most  Near  Eastern  civiliza- 
tions, but  even  they  did  not  govern  themselves.  Their  main  func- 
tionaries, who  were  either  appointed  or  confirmed  by  the  govern- 
ment, were  inescapably  tied  to  an  operational  system  that  served 
the  interests  of  the  government  rather  than  the  interests  of  the 

iii.    THE    GUILDS 

The  professional  corporations  of  the  artisans  and  traders  in  hydrau- 
lic civilizations  were  similarly  conditioned.  Again  the  appointment 
of  the  leading  official  is  significant;  but  again  it  is  only  one  of  several 
ways  in  which  the  despotic  state  assures  its  unchecked  superiority 
and  the  weakness  of  the  tolerated  organization. 

Hellenistic  Egypt  seems  to  have  followed  ancient  usage  in  having 
persons  "working  for  the  State  in  industry,  transport,  mining,  build- 
ing, hunting,  etc."  gathered  into  professional  groups  that  were 
"organized  and  closely  supervised  by  the  economic  and  financial  ad- 
ministration of  the  king."  45 

In  the  later  part  of  the  Roman  empire  and  in  Byzantium,  the 
government  "strictly  regulated"  the  activities  of  the  guilds.*  Until 
the  third  century  the  members  elected  their  own  headmen;  but  from 
that  time  on  the  government  made  the  final  decision  on  guild- 
nominated  headmen,  who,  after  installation,  were  supervised  and 
disciplined  by  the  state.46 

In  Ottoman  Turkey  officials  inspected  the  markets 47  and  con- 
trolled the  prices,  weights,  and  measurements,*  thus  fulfilling  func- 
tions which  in  the  burgher-controlled  towns  of  Medieval  Europe 
were  usually  the  responsibility  of  the  urban  authorities.48  Further- 
more, the  state,  which  in  most  countries  of  feudal  Europe  collected 
few  if  any  regular  taxes  from  the  urban  centers  of  strongly  developed 
guild  power,  was  able  in  Turkey  to  tax  the  guilds  and,  as  elsewhere 
in  the  Orient,  to  employ  as  its  fiscal  agents  the  headmen  of  these 
corporations,  who  "distributed  the  tax-quotas  of  their  members"  and 
who  were  "personally  responsible  for  their  payment."  49 

In  Hindu  India,  the  setthi,  the  head  of  the  merchant  guild,  was 
a  semi-official  closely  attached  to  the  ruler's  fiscal  administration.50 

h.  Stockle,  1911:  11.  For  reference  to  guild  heads  as  tax  collectors  in  Byzantine  and 
Arab  Egypt,  see  Grohmann,  PAP:  279  and  n.  8.  For  conditions  at  the  beginning  of 
Arab  rule,  see  ibid.:  131,  n.  3,  and  Crum,  1925:  103-11. 

i.  Specifically  this  was  done  by  agents  of  the  kadi  (Gibb  and  Bowen,  1950:  287). 

CHAPTER    4,    B  121 

The  merchants  represented  considerable  wealth,  and  their  corpora- 
tions seem  to  have  been  more  highly  respected  than  those  of  the 
artisans.51  But  this  did  not  make  the  merchant  guild  a  significant 
political  entity. 

It  has  been  said  that  the  Indian  guilds  came  into  prominence 
in  early  Buddhist  days.52  In  agreeing  with  this  observation,  however, 
we  must  be  careful  not  to  exaggerate  its  political  significance.  Accord- 
ing to  Fick,  "the  corporations  of  the  manufacturers  fall — partly  at 
any  rate — undoubtedly  under  the  category  of  the  despised  castes"; 53 
and  Dr.  Rhys-Davids  insists  that  there  is  "no  instance  as  yet  produced 
from  early  Buddhist  documents  pointing  to  any  corporate  organisa- 
tion of  the  nature  of  a  gild  or  Hansa  league."  5i  A  legend  of  the  3d 
or  4th  century,  which  is  supposed  to  show  that  the  town  of  Thana ' 
was  "ruled  by  a  strong  merchant  guild"  actually  describes  the  un- 
successful attempt  of  a  group  of  merchants  to  combat  a  competitor 
by  cornering  the  market.* 

In  China  the  existence  of  guilds  is  reliably  documented  only  since 
the  second  half  of  the  first  millennium  a.d.  Under  the  T'ang  and 
Sung  dynasties  the  guild  heads  could  be  held  responsible  for  the  im- 
proper professional  behavior  of  their  members,  such  as  violations  of 
the  currency  regulations,55  theft,  and  other  misdeeds.  And  in  many 
cases  membership  was  compulsory.56  The  guilds  as  a  unit  also  had 
to  render  special  services  to  the  state.57  In  recent  centuries  the  gov- 
ernment seems  to  have  left  the  less  significant  craft  and  trade  guilds 
largely  to  their  own  devices;  m  but  the  corporations  of  such  important 
groups  as  the  salt  merchants n  and  a  number  of  Cantonese  firms 
dealing  in  foreign  trade  °  were  strictly  supervised. 


Our  information  on  secondary  religions  is  particularly  plentiful  for 
Islamic  society  and  traditional  China.  Muslim  rulers  tolerated  Chris- 
tianity, Judaism,  and  Zoroastrianism."  But  followers  of  these  creeds 
had  to  accept  an  inferior  status  both  politically  and  socially,  and 

/.  Poona,  south  of  modern  Bombay. 

k.  Hopkins,  1902:  175.  Hopkins'  erroneous  thesis  is  taken  up  by  Max  Weber  in  an 
argument  stressing  the  temporary  political  prominence  of  the  Hindu  guilds  (Weber, 
RS,  II:  86  ff.).  See  below,  p.  266. 

m.  Wittfogel,  1931:  580  ft.,  714  ff.  My  1931  analysis  overlooked  the  state-controlled 
guilds  of  important  trades,  such  as  the  salt  business. 

n.  The  guild  heads  collect  the  tax  from  the  "small  merchants"  (Ch'ing  Shih  Kao 
129.  ib). 

o.  The  headmen  were  appointed  by  the  government  (Yueh  Hai  Kuan  Chih  25.  2a). 

p.  Macdonald,  1941:  96;  Grunebaum,  1946:  117.  Zoroastrians  were  tolerated  originally 
(Mez,  1922:  30);  later  they  were  more  harshly  treated  (Buchner,  1941:  381). 


they  were  prevented  from  spreading  their  ideas.  The  laws  forbade 
conversion  from  Christianity  to  Judaism  or  vice  versa;  and  penalties 
for  apostasy  from  Islam  were  severe.  Christians  were  not  permitted 
to  beat  their  wooden  boards  loudly,9  or  sing  in  their  churches  with 
raised  voices,  or  assemble  in  the  presence  of  Muslims,  or  display 
their  "idolatry,"  "nor  invite  to  it,  nor  show  a  cross"  on  their 
churches.58  No  wonder  that  the  religious  minorities — who  during 
the  Turkish  period  were  set  apart  in  organizations  called  millet 59 — 
vegetated  rather  than  throve.  The  head  of  the  millet  was  nominated 
by  the  millet r  but  appointed  by  the  sultan;  60  once  in  office  he 
was  given  "just  enough  executive  power  ...  to  enable  him  to 
collect  the  taxes  imposed  on  his  community  by  the  state."  81 

In  traditional  China,  Buddhism  was  the  most  important  secondary 
religion.  It  reached  its  greatest  prominence  in  the  barbarian  dynasties 
of  infiltration  and  conquest  which  ruled  over  the  old  northern 
centers  of  Chinese  culture  during  the  middle  period  of  the  first 
millennium  a.d.62  The  harsh  persecutions  of  845  initiated  a  policy 
which  over  time  reduced  it  to  a  carefully  restricted  secondary 

Specially  designated  officials  supervised  Buddhism  and  other  prob- 
lematic creeds.83  The  government  limited  the  erection  of  monasteries 
and  temples; 64  it  licensed  the  number  of  priests  and  monks; 65  it 
forbade  certain  religious  activities  which  in  other  countries  went 
unrestricted;  and  it  prescribed  that  "the  Buddhist  and  Taoist  clergy 
shall  not  hold  sutra-readings  in  market-squares,  nor  go  about  with 
alms-bowls,  nor  explain  the  fruits  of  salvation,  nor  collect  moneys."  6e 
Concluding  his  classical  survey  of  what  others  have  hailed  as  the 
elements  of  religious  liberty,  Be  Groot  asks:  "What  is  the  good  of 
this  liberty  where  the  State  has  cast  its  system  of  certification  of 
clergy  within  such  strict  bounds,  and  has  made  the  admission  of 
male  disciples  extremely  difficult,  of  females  almost  impossible,  so 
that  the  number  of  those  who  could  avail  themselves  of  such  liberty, 
is  reduced  to  a  miserably  small  percentage  of  the  population?  It 
makes  this  vaunted  liberty  into  a  farce."  67 

b.  Genuine  Elements  of  Freedom  Nevertheless  Present 

Thus  the  hydraulic  state  restrictively  affects  practically  all  secondary 
groups  and  organizations,  but  it  does  not  integrate  them  completely 
into  its  power  system. 

The  traditional  Chinese  family,  whose  head  enjoyed  a  particularly 

q.  These  boards  were  used  as  bells  (Grunebaum,  1946:  179). 
r.  Or  its  clergy? 

CHAPTER    4,    B  123 

distinguished  position  legally,  was  not  forced  by  political  and  police 
pressure  to  set  one  family  member  against  another,  as  is  the  case  in 
modern  apparatus  states.  In  China  and  in  India  the  government 
permitted  the  kin  groups  to  settle  their  internal  affairs  in  accordance 
with  their  own  family  "laws."  f8  In  other  hydraulic  civilizations  the 
families  enjoyed  a  less  formal,  but  equally  effective,  quasi-autonomy. 

Government  control  over  the  villages,  although  very  specific,  is 
also  definitely  limited.  Even  where  village  officials  wield  much 
power,  the  peasants  who  live  alongside  them  have  many  opportunities 
to  make  their  opinions  on  the  day-to-day  affairs  of  the  community 
felt.  And  once  the  demands  of  the  government  are  satisfied,  the 
headman  and  his  aides  usually  settle  the  affairs  of  their  village  with 
little,  if  any,  interference  from  above. 

Certain  opportunities  for  self-government  seem  to  have  existed  in 
the  villages  of  Roman  Syria  69  and  in  the  Egyptian  villages  of  the 
Roman  and  Byzantine  period.70  The  village  chief  of  Ottoman 
Turkey,  like  his  counterparts  in  other  Oriental  civilizations,  acted 
with  great  independence  as  far  as  the  internal  affairs  of  the  rural 
community  were  concerned.71 

The  headman  of  an  Indian  village  could  fulfill  his  functions  suc- 
cessfully only  by  trying  "to  conciliate  the  villagers."  72  He  could  not 
be  "proud,  intolerant,  and  haughty  like  the  Brahmins";  instead  he 
had  to  be  "polite  and  complaisant"  toward  his  equals  and  "affable 
and  condescending"  toward  his  inferiors.73  Full-fledged  committee 
organizations  were  probably  confined  to  the  small  minority  of  rural 
settlements  dominated  by  landholding  groups,  primarily  Brahmins.74 
But  the  informal  assembly  (panchayat)  of  village  elders  or  all 
villagers  is  said  to  have  been  a  general  institution;  75  and  its  meet- 
ings apparently  softened  the  authority  of  the  headman.  Since  the 
villages,  except  for  official  demands,  remained  more  or  less  in  the 
charge  of  the  headmen  and  their  aides,  they  were  indeed  rural  is- 
lands, enjoying  partial  autonomy.76 

In  the  traditional  Chinese  village  the  local  officials  were  still 
closer  to  the  nonofficiating  co-villagers,  who,  particularly  when  they 
belonged  to  wealthy  or  gentry  families,  might  exert  great  influence 
in  local  affairs.77  Criticism  from  an  "out"  group  of  fellow  villagers 
might  compel  the  headman  and  his  supporters  to  resign.  Under  such 
pressure,  a  "band  of  men"  who  had  been  in  power  for  a  long  time 
might  withdraw  "from  their  places,  leaving  them  to  those  who 
offered  the  criticisms."  78 

Such  behavior  does  not  imply  a  formal  democratic  pattern;  but 
it  has  a  democratic  flavor.  Of  course,  there  are  various  kinds  of 
official  requests;  and  there  is  always  the  constable,  and  often  a  tax 


collector,  both  government  appointed  and  both  spectacularly  repre- 
senting the  interests  of  the  bureaucratic  apparatus.  But  here  outside 
control  usually  ends.  The  government  "places  no  practical  restric- 
tions upon  the  right  of  free  assemblage  by  the  people  for  the  con- 
sideration of  their  own  affairs.  The  people  of  any  village  can  if 
they  choose  meet  every  day  in  the  year.  There  is  no  government 
censor  present,  and  no  restriction  upon  liberty  of  debate.  The 
people  can  say  what  they  like,  and  the  local  Magistrate  neither  knows 
nor  cares  what  is  said."  T9 

In  many  hydraulic  civilizations  the  government  was  as  little 
concerned  about  the  internal  affairs  of  the  guilds.  The  Indian  Law 
Books  advised  the  king  to  recognize  the  statutes  (laws)  of  the 
guilds.80  And  similar  statutes  existed  elsewhere.81  The  Turkish  guilds 
were  subject  to  "the  overriding  authority  of  the  temporal  and 
spiritual  powers,  represented  by  governors,  police  officers,  and 
kadis"; 82  and  their  headmen  were  held  responsible  by  the  govern- 
ment for  the  execution  of  its  fiscal  tasks.  However,  otherwise  and 
"within  the  limits  imposed  by  religion,  tradition,  and  'usage,'  .  .  . 
the  corporations  were  relatively  free  and  autonomous."  83  Gibb  and 
Bowen  therefore  list  them  among  "the  almost  self-governing 
groups."  84 

Gibb's  and  Bowen's  formula  is  valid  also  for  the  secondary 
religions.  All  external  restrictions  notwithstanding,  these  religions 
did  enjoy  "some  fragments  of  religious  liberty."  In  traditional  China 
the  priests  of  the  secondary  religions,  "seeking  their  own  and  other 
people's  salvation,  are  not  forbidden  to  preach,  recite  sutras,  and 
perform  ceremonies  within  doors."  85  And  under  Islam,  "each  non- 
Moslem  congregation  administers  its  own  affairs  under  its  responsible 
head,  a  rabbi,  bishop,  etc."  86  As  long  as  their  worship  disturbed  no 
"true  believers,"  and  as  long  as  their  organization  presented  no 
security  threat,  the  government  usually  permitted  the  religious 
minorities  to  live,  within  their  congregations,  a  more  or  less  autono- 
mous life. 

5.  Conclusion 

a.  Politically  Irrelevant  Freedoms 

These  are  indeed  modest  freedoms!  They  occur  in  varying  com- 
binations in  several  spheres  of  life.  And  by  now  we  should  be  able 
to  understand  why  they  do  occur,  and  why  they  are  so  limited. 

Hydraulic  society  is  certainly  not  immune  to  rebellious  move- 
ments, but  kin  organizations  even  in  their  extended  forms  are  no 
political   threat   to  a  normally  functioning  agrobureaucratic  des- 

CHAPTER    4,    B  125 

potism.  Nor  are  the  villages  a  serious  threat.  The  relatively  far- 
reaching  autonomy  of  the  traditional  Chinese  village  could,  in  case 
of  an  insurrection,  "be  extinguished  in  a  moment,  a  fact  of  which 
all  the  people  are  perfectly  well  aware."  8T  Secondary  religious  groups 
might  be  a  danger  in  times  of  great  unrest.  And  this  is  probably  why 
the  government  of  imperial  China  never  relaxed  its  control  over 
the  tolerated  creeds  and  was  so  ready  to  suppress  certain  sects.88 
The  rebellious  potential  inherent  in  the  guilds  was  perhaps  never 
completely  eliminated,  but  the  hydraulic  government  was  able  to 
paralyze  it  without  exhausting  its  revenues. 

Grunebaum  finds  it  "remarkable  to  observe  how  little  the  Muslim 
state  was  really  hampered  in  its  operation  by  the  dead  weight  of 
these  semi-foreign  organizations  within  its  structure."  89  And  others 
have  commented  in  the  same  vein  on  the  political  effect  of  guilds  in 
hydraulic  civilizations.  The  early  Byzantine  state  had  no  need  to 
liquidate  the  still-existing  Roman  guilds,  "since  they  were  not  at 
all  dangerous  politically,  and  since  they  could  exert  no  pressure 
whatsoever  on  the  government  and  administration,  as  did,  for  in- 
stance, the  German  guilds  of  the  Middle  Ages."  90  Massignon,  who 
more  than  most  of  his  colleagues  considers  the  Muslim  guilds  at 
least  temporarily  a  political  factor,  is  nevertheless  aware  that  they 
"never  attained  a  political  influence  comparable  to  that  of  the 
medieval  European  guilds."  91  Gibb  and  Bowen  consider  the  powers 
of  the  medieval  guilds  in  Europe  so  much  broader  than  those  of 
the  Islamic  corporations  that  they  doubt  the  suitability  of  the  very 
term  "guild"  for  the  latter.92  An  equation  between  the  guilds  of  the 
Medieval  West  and  the  guilds  of  India 9S  or  of  China 94  has  been 
rejected  for  similar  reasons. 

To  be  sure,  there  existed  many  resemblances  between  the  two  types 
of  corporations,  resemblances  created  by  the  peculiarities  and  needs 
of  the  organized  professions;  9S  but  the  profoundly  different  societal 
settings  in  which  they  operated  gave  them  profoundly  different  po- 
litical and  social  qualities.  The  guildsmen  of  the  later  European 
Middle  Ages  frequently  became  the  masters  of  their  towns;  and  as 
such  they  might  play  an  active  part  in  the  power  struggles  of  their 
time.  The  guildsmen  of  the  hydraulic  world  were  permitted  a  cer- 
tain autonomy,  not  because,  politically  speaking,  they  were  so  strong, 
but  because  they  were  so  irrelevant. 

b.  A  Beggars'  Democracy 

I  n  modern  totalitarian  states  the  inmates  of  concentration  and  forced 
labor  camps  are  permitted  at  times  to  gather  in  groups  and  talk  at 
will;  and  not  infrequently  certain  among  them  are  given  minor 


supervisory  jobs.  In  terms  of  the  law  of  diminishing  administrative 
returns  such  "freedoms"  pay  well.  While  saving  personnel,  they  in  no 
way  threaten  the  power  of  the  commandant  and  his  guards. 

The  villages,  guilds,  and  secondary  religious  organizations  of  agro- 
managerial  society  were  no  terror  camps.  But  like  them  they  enjoyed 
certain  politically  irrelevant  freedoms.  These  freedoms — which  in 
some  instances  were  considerable — did  not  result  in  full  autonomy. 
At  best  they  established  a  kind  of  Beggars'  Democracy. 


1.  Total  Power — for  the  Benefit  of  the  People? 

The  hydraulic  state  is  not  checked  by  a  Beggars'  Democracy.  Nor  is 
it  checked  by  any  other  effective  constitutional,  societal,  or  cultural 
counterweights.  Clearly  it  is  despotic.  But  does  it  not  at  the  same  time 
benefit  the  people? 

2.  The  Claim  and  the  Reality 

a.  Operational  Necessity  Not  to  Be  Confused  with  Benevolence 

The  hydraulic  state  is  a  managerial  state,  and  certain  of  its  opera- 
tions do  indeed  benefit  the  people.  But  since  the  rulers  depend  on 
these  operations  for  their  own  maintenance  and  prosperity,  their 
policies  can  hardly  be  considered  benevolent.  A  pirate  does  not  act 
benevolently  when  he  keeps  his  ship  afloat  or  feeds  the  slaves  he 
plans  to  sell.  Capable  of  recognizing  his  future  as  well  as  his  present 
advantages,  he  is  rational  but  not  benevolent.  His  behavior  may 
temporarily  benefit  the  persons  in  his  power;  but  this  is  not  its  pri- 
mary purpose.  Given  a  choice,  he  will  further  his  own  interests,  and 
not  the  interests  of  others. 

b.  The  Rationality  Coefficient  of  Hydraulic  Society 

On  the  level  of  total  power,  the  representatives  of  hydraulic  regimes 
proceed  in  a  similar  way.  Their  behavior  may  to  some  degree  benefit 
the  persons  in  their  power,  and  far-sighted  advisors  and  statesmen 
may  stress  the  importance  of  satisfying  the  people;  "but  taken  as  a 
group  they  consider  the  needs  of  their  subjects  in  the  light  of  their 
own  needs  and  advantages.  For  this  purpose  they  must  (i)  keep  the 
agrarian  economy  going;  (2)  not  increase  corvee  labor  and  taxes  to  a 

a.  For  India  see  Bhagavadgita,  passim,  and  Manu,  1886:  229,  396  ff.  For  China:  the 
sayings  of  Confucius  and  still  more  important,  those  of  Mencius. 

CHAPTER    4,    C  127 

point  where  the  discouraged  peasants  stop  producing;  and  (3)  not 
permit  internal  and  external  strife  to  disrupt  the  life  of  the  popula- 

The  third  task — the  maintenance  of  peace  and  order— confronts 
the  governments  of  all  societies.  The  first  and  second  tasks  distin- 
guish hydraulic  from  other  agrarian  civilizations.  The  continued  ex- 
istence of  agrarian  despotism  depends  on  the  satisfactory  execution 
of  these  three  functions.  They  constitute  what  may  be  called  the 
regime's  rationality  minimum. 

Conquest  societies,  whose  rulers  are  steeped  in  nonhydraulic  tra- 
ditions, often  proceed  along  or  near  the  lowest  hydraulic  rationality 
level.  And  endogenous  masters  frequently  sink  to  this  level  during 
periods  of  decay  and  disintegration.  Strong  moves  toward  a  higher 
rationality  coefficient  occur  particularly  during  the  earlier  phases  of 
endogenous  rule,  but  they  may  also  occur  during  later  periods  of 
growth  or  consolidation. 

The  formative  phase  of  a  conquest  society  is  largely  determined  by 
the  conquerors'  ability  to  identify  themselves  with  their  new  institu- 
tional environment.  The  Mongols  were  completely  alien  to  the  tradi- 
tions and  mores  of  the  hydraulic  civilizations  they  overran.  Chingis 
Khan's  son,  Ogotai,  is  said  to  have  planned  to  convert  the  cultivated 
fields  of  China  into  pastures;  and  he  refrained  from  doing  so  only 
because  Yeh-lii  Ch'u-ts'ai  convincingly  explained  to  him  the  superior 
tax  potential  of  the  agrarian  order. x  But  although  the  Mongols  main- 
tained the  hydraulic  economy  of  their  new  realm,  they  remained  in- 
different to  its  subtler  needs.  Virtually  everywhere  they  stayed  close 
to  the  rationality  minimum  of  hydraulic  society. 

Mohammed,  who  lived  in  arid  Arabia,  certainly  understood  the 
importance  of  irrigation  for  successful  crop-raising,  although  in  his 
official  utterances  he  rarely  refers  to  the  problem,  and  then  essen- 
tially to  small-scale  (well)  irrigation.2  His  followers  preserved,  re- 
stored, and  even  created  vigorous  hydraulic  economies  in  Syria, 
Egypt,  Iraq,  Northwest  Africa,  Spain,  and  briefly  also  in  Sicily.  The 
Manchus  were  familiar  with  irrigation  agriculture  before  they  moved 
southward  across  the  Great  Wall  to  conquer  China.3  In  this  respect 
they  were  not  unlike  the  Incas,  who  practiced  irrigation  in  the  An- 
dean highlands  before  they  established  their  hydraulic  empire.4 
When  they  were  overrun  by  the  Spaniards,  they  were  probably  op- 
erating close  to  their  rationality  maximum. 

c.  Whose  Rationality  Coefficient? 

But  no  matter  whether  a  hydraulic  society  is  operated  crudely  or 
subtly,  the  claim  of  benevolence  compels  us  to  ask:  cui  bono?  Evi- 


dently  operational  tasks  may  be  handled  in  a  way  that  satisfies  the 
interests  of  the  rulers  at  the  expense  of  the  nongovernmental  forces 
of  society.  Or  they  may  be  handled  in  a  way  that  satisfies  the  needs 
of  the  people  and  gives  few,  if  any,  advantages  to  the  government. 
Intermediate  solutions  compromise  between  the  two  extremes. 

As  a  rule,  the  three  alternatives  are  seriously  considered  only  if 
the  actual  circumstances  permit  genuine  choice.  In  the  managerial, 
the  consumptive,  and  the  judicial  spheres  of  hydraulic  life  this  is 
indeed  the  case.  But  in  all  these  spheres  we  find  the  people's  interests 
sacrificed  to  the  rulers'  rationality  optimum. 

3.  The  Rulers'  Rationality  Optimum  Prevails 

a.  Necessity  and  Choice  in  the  Policy  of  the  Hydraulic  Regime 

In  the  territorial  states  of  ancient  China,  as  in  other  hydraulic  civ- 
ilizations, philosophers  discussed  the  alternatives  of  altruistic,  bal- 
anced, or  crudely  selfish  rule  before  the  representatives  of  absolutist 
power.  Confucius  pointed  out  that  Yii,  the  legendary  founder  of  the 
protohistorical  Hsia  dynasty,  ate  coarse  foods,  dressed  poorly,  dwelt 
in  a  modest  house,  and  concentrated  his  energies  on  the  irrigation 
canals.  This  great  culture  hero,  whom  Confucius  considered  flaw- 
less,5 combined  a  minimum  of  personal  demand  with  a  maximum  of 
public  devotion. 

In  the  later  period  of  China's  early  history  the  kings  lived  very 
comfortably;  but  the  best  among  them  are  said  to  have  sought  a 
balance  between  their  own  and  their  subjects'  interests.  The  philos- 
opher Mencius,  who  discussed  this  point,  did  not  challenge  the  rul- 
ers' right  to  build  lofty  edifices,  parks,  and  ponds  by  corvee  labor; 
but  he  asked  that  the  people  be  permitted  to  share  these  enterprises 
with  their  king.6 

Thus  the  philosophers  of  ancient  China  assumed  that  within  the 
framework  of  governmental  needs  there  existed  genuine  alternatives 
for  action.  Without  exception,  however,  the  masters  of  the  agrarian 
apparatus  state  satisfied  the  constructional,  organizational,  and  ac- 
quisitive needs  of  their  realm  with  a  maximum  stress  on  their  own 
advantage  and  a  minimum  stress  on  the  requirements  of  their  sub- 

b.  The  Rulers'  Managerial  Optimum 

I  n  its  early  phase  the  hydraulic  regime  becomes  stronger  and  wealth- 
ier with  the  growth  of  its  hydraulic  economy.  But  at  a  certain  point 
the  government  can  obtain  additional  revenue  by  intensifying  its 

CHAPTER    4,    C  129 

acquisitive  rather  than  its  productive  operations.  It  is  at  this  point 
that  different  power  constellations  lead  to  a  different  managerial 

The  rulers'  managerial  optimum  is  maintained  whenever  the  gov- 
ernment collects  a  maximum  revenue  with  a  minimum  hydraulic 
effort.  The  people's  managerial  optimum  is  maintained  whenever  a 
maximum  hydraulic  achievement  is  accomplished  with  minimum  adr 
ministrative  expense.  Intermediate  arrangements  involve  the  collec- 
tion of  a  large  but  not  maximum  revenue,  a  good  part  of  which  is 
used  to  produce  sizable  but  not  maximum  hydraulic  works. 

The  rulers'  responses  to  these  alternatives  show  clearly  the  effect 
of  total  power  on  those  who  wield  it.  Beyond  the  zone  of  stimulating 
discrepancy,  they  generally  push  only  those  hydraulic  enterprises 
that  improve  their  own  well-being;  and  they  are  most  ingenious  in 
developing  new  methods  of  fiscal  exploitation.  In  short,  they  aim  at 
the  rulers',  and  not  at  the  people's,  managerial  optimum. 

c.  The  Rulers'  Consumptive  Optimum 

Three  major  alternatives  may  also  be  distinguished  in  the  sphere 
of  consumption.  The  rulers'  consumptive  optimum  is  maintained 
whenever  the  masters  of  the  hydraulic  state  arrogate  to  themselves 
a  maximum  of  goods,  which  they  may  consume  with  a  maximum  of 
conspicuousness  ("splendor").  The  people's  consumptive  optimum  is 
maintained  whenever  the  nongovernmental  members  of  society  re- 
ceive a  maximum  of  goods,  which  they  may  consume  as  conspicu- 
ously as  they  please.  Intermediate  arrangements  to  some  degree  favor 
the  representatives  of  the  government  without,  however,  seriously  re- 
stricting the  quality  or  conspicuousness  of  popular  consumption. 

Again  the  responses  to  these  alternatives  show  the  effect  of  total 
power  on  those  who  wield  it.  The  proverbial  splendor  of  Oriental 
despotism  as  well  as  the  proverbial  misery  of  its  subjects  have  their 
roots  in  a  policy  that  is  directed  toward  the  rulers',  and  not  the  peo- 
ple's, consumptive  optimum. 

This  optimum  has  both  an  economic  and  a  legal  aspect.  By  con- 
centrating the  national  surplus  in  their  own  hands,  the  rulers  restrict 
the  amount  of  goods  physically  available  to  nongovernmental  con- 
sumers. By  legally  forbidding  the  general  use  of  prestige-giving  ob- 
jects, they  reserve  to  themselves  conspicuous  consumption.  In  sim- 
pler hydraulic  civilizations  both  aims  can  be  achieved  without  much 
difficulty.  Increasing  social  differentiations  complicate  matters,  but 
they  do  not  preclude  a  situation  that,  for  all  practical  purposes,  re- 
alizes the  rulers'  optimum. 


In  the  Inca  empire  the  common  people  ate  poorly  and  had  little 
opportunity  to  drink  heavily.7  Their  rulers  ate  extremely  well,  and 
they  imbibed  to  excess.8  Moreover,  the  gulf  between  the  two  groups 
was  widened  by  laws  which  reserved  the  use  of  gold,  silver,  precious 
stones,  colored  feathers,  and  vicuna  wool  to  the  rulers.  The  common- 
ers were  permitted  some  modest  ornaments,  but  even  these  could  be 
worn  only  on  special  occasions.9 

Arrangements  of  this  kind  are  most  easily  enforced  when  the  great 
majority  of  the  commoners  are  peasants  living  in  government- 
controlled  and  more  or  less  equalitarian  villages.  The  emergence  of 
many  property-based  enterprises  involves  the  growth  of  nonbureau- 
cratic  forms  of  wealth,  both  mobile  and  immobile;  and  such  a  de- 
velopment inevitably  affects  the  pattern  of  consumption. 

Even  under  these  circumstances  the  bulk  of  the  rural  and  urban 
population  continues  to  live  poorly;  and  the  small  stratum  of  non- 
bureaucratic  property-holders  sees  their  fortunes  constantly  threat- 
ened by  taxation  and  confiscation  (and  in  time  split  up  through  the 
laws  of  inheritance).  But  wherever  large  property-based  business  be- 
came essential,  private  wealth  could  not  be  eradicated,  and  those 
possessing  it  could  not  be  prevented  from  enjoying  at  least  some 
part  of  it. 

Thus  the  laws  which  reserved  certain  types  of  dress  or  other  con- 
spicuous goods  to  the  ruling  class  became  a  crucial  means  for  placing 
the  men  of  the  governmental  machine  and  the  priests  of  the  domi- 
nant religion  above  the  mass  of  the  commoners.  In  traditional  China 
the  officials  and  their  nonofficiating  relatives  were  distinguished  by 
their  houses,  furniture,  clothes,  and  vehicles.10  The  Indian  Law 
Books  prescribe  very  precisely  the  garments,  girdles,  staffs,  etc.  to  be 
used  by  Brahmins,  Kshatriyas,  and  Vaisyas.11  In  the  Near  East  dis- 
tinct bureaucratic  features  of  dress  are  documented  for  Pharaonic 
Egypt,12  Assyria,13  Byzantium,14  the  Arab  caliphate,15  the  Mamluks,16 
and  Ottoman  Turkey.17 

Within  the  limits  of  these  regulations  the  commoners  might — the- 
oretically speaking — enjoy  their  wealth.  But  they  always  hid  their 
most  precious  possessions,  and  frequently  their  fear  of  confiscatory 
action  was  so  great  that  they  avoided  all  ostentation.  The  sweeping 
persecution  of  the  merchants  under  the  Earlier  Han  dynasty  was 
provoked  by  the  blatant  show  which  the  rich  businessmen  had  made 
of  their  wealth.18  Under  a  government  which  makes  no  effort  to 
approach  the  rationality  maximum,  potential  victims  of  confiscation 
may  act  with  extreme  caution.  The  French  physician,  Bernier,  who 
from  1655  to  ^58  lived  in  the  Near  East  and  afterward  spent  almost 
ten  years  in  Mogul  India,  was  struck  by  the  frustrating  atmosphere 

CHAPTER    4,    C  131 

in  which  the  businessmen  of  Asia  operated.  Enterprise  found  "little 
encouragement  to  engage  in  commercial  pursuits,"  because  greedy 
tyrants  possessed  "both  power  and  inclination  to  deprive  any  man 
of  the  fruits  of  his  industry."  And  "when  wealth  is  acquired,  as 
must  sometimes  be  the  case,  the  possessor,  so  far  from  living  with  in- 
creased comfort  and  assuming  an  air  of  independence,  studies  the 
means  by  which  he  may  appear  indigent:  his  dress,  lodging,  and 
furniture  continue  to  be  mean,  and  he  is  careful,  above  all  things, 
never  to  indulge  in  the  pleasures  of  the  table."  19 

Bernier's  observations  must  not  be  pressed.  Under  more  far-sighted 
rulers  the  wealthy  merchants  of  Asia  lived  luxuriously  as  long  as 
their  behavior  did  not  invite  disaster.  And  even  in  the  India  of 
Aurangzeb  some  few  government-protected  persons  of  wealth,  Bernier 
tells  us,  "are  at  no  pains  to  counterfeit  poverty,  but  partake  of  the 
comforts  and  luxuries  of  life."  20 

But  such  exceptions  do  not  negate  the  basic  trend.  In  hydraulic 
civilizations  wealthy  commoners  were  denied  the  proprietary  security 
which  the  burghers  of  the  later  Middle  Ages  enjoyed;  and  they  did 
not  dare  to  engage  in  the  conspicuous  consumption  which  the 
medieval  businessmen  practiced,  despite  the  many  sumptuary  laws 
to  which  they  too  had  to  submit.  The  lavish  display  by  the  repre- 
sentatives of  the  state  on  the  one  side  and  the  predominance  of 
genuine  and  feigned  poverty  on  the  other  spectacularly  show  the 
effect  of  total  power  on  the  consumptive  optimum  of  hydraulic 

d.  The  Rulers'  Judicial  Optimum 

Similarly  one-sided  decisions  characterize  the  judicial  field.  As 
explained  above,  no  society  is  without  standardized  norms;  and  few 
advanced  agrarian  civilizations  are  without  written  or  codified  laws. 
Thus  it  is  the  special  setting  and  intent  that  separate  the  laws  of 
hydraulic  despotism  from  those  of  pluralistically  controlled  states. 

The  rulers'  judicial  optimum  is  maintained  whenever  the  repre- 
sentatives of  government  exert  a  maximum  influence  on  the  formula- 
tion and  application  of  their  country's  laws.  The  people's  judicial 
optimum  is  maintained  whenever  the  nongovernmental  elements  of 
society  are  decisive.  In  democratic  commonwealths  the  constitu- 
tionally qualified  citizen  may  participate  in  the  formulation  of  the 
laws.  He  may  exercise  the  functions  of  a  judge,  as  he  did  in  demo- 
cratic Athens,  or  he  may,  as  a  lay  juror,  cooperate  with  professionally 
trained,  but  elected  judges.  In  both  cases  the  nongovernmental  forces 
of  society,  and  not  a  despotic  state,  are  charged  with  the  application 


of  the  law.  Intermediate  variants  are  characterized  by  an  increased, 
but  not  absolute,  governmental  power  and  by  a  proportionately  de- 
creased popular  control  over  the  legislature  and  judiciary. 

It  is  obvious  that  the  first  type  of  judicial  optimum  prevails  in 
hydraulic  society.  And  it  is  equally  obvious  that  in  the  judicial 
sphere,  as  in  others,  the  masters  of  the  hydraulic  state  seek  a 
maximum  of  results  (internal  order)  with  a  minimum  of  govern- 
mental effort  and  expense.  This  they  accomplish  not  by  yielding 
important  judicial  functions  to  quasi-independent  secondary  centers 
of  power,  as  did  the  sovereigns  of  feudal  Europe,6  but  by  permitting 
politically  irrelevant  groups  to  handle  certain  of  their  own  legal 
affairs,  or  by  permitting  magistrates  to  handle  legal  matters  along 
with  their  other  duties,  or,  where  professional  judges  are  the  rule, 
by  having  as  few  full-time  judges  as  possible. 

Such  conditions  preclude  the  development  of  independent  juries. 
They  discourage  elaborate  judicial  procedures.  And  they  leave  little 
room  for  the  functioning  of  independent  professional  lawyers.  With 
these  limitations  the  judges  of  a  hydraulic  society  settle  legal  cases 
— many  of  which  arise  from  clashes  of  proprietary  interests,  and  in 
countries  with  a  highly  commercialized  urban  life  this  field  of  action 
may  become  very  important  indeed.21 

However,  even  at  their  rational  best,  the  laws  of  such  countries 
express  a  fundamentally  unbalanced  societal  situation.  Even  if  they 
protect  one  commoner  against  the  other,  they  do  not  protect  the 
commoners — as  individuals  or  as  a  group — against  the  absolutist 
state.  Shortly  after  Bernier  had  commented  on  this  phenomenon, 
John  Locke  did  likewise;  and  his  references  to  Ottoman  Turkey, 
Ceylon,  and  Tsarist  Russia  show  him  aware  that  the  tyrannical 
variant  of  judicial  procedure,  which  English  autocracy  failed  to  de- 
velop fully,  flourished  unhampered  under  Oriental  despotism. 

Locke  insists  that  the  presence  of  laws  in  a  despotic  regime  proves 
nothing  as  to  their  justness: 

"if  it  be  asked  what  security,  what  fence  is  there  in  such  a  state 
against  the  violence  and  oppression  of  this  absolute  ruler,  the 
very  question  can  scarce  be  borne.  They  are  ready  to  tell  you 
that  it  deserves  death  only  to  ask  after  safety.  Betwixt  subject 
and  subject,  they  will  grant,  there  must  be  measures,  laws,  and 
judges  for  their  mutual  peace  and  security.  But  as  for  the  ruler, 
he  ought  to  be  absolute,  and  is  above  all  such  circumstances; 
because  he  has  a  power  to  do  more  hurt  and  wrong,  it  is  right 

b.  The  holders  of  office  land  and  the  tax  collectors  who  occasionally  act  as  judges 
are,  either  fully  or  partially,  integrated  in  the  bureaucratic  apparatus.  See  below, 
Chap.  8. 

CHAPTER    4,    C  133 

when  he  does  it.  To  ask  how  you  may  be  guarded  from  harm 
or  injury  on  that  side,  where  the  strongest  hand  is  to  do  it,  is 
presently  the  voice  of  faction  and  rebellion.  As  if  when  men, 
quitting  the  state  of  nature,  entered  into  society,  they  agreed 
that  all  of  them  but  one  should  be  under  the  restraint  of  laws; 
but  that  he  should  still  retain  all  the  liberty  of  the  state  of 
Nature,  increased  with  power,  and  made  licentious  by  im- 
punity. This  is  to  think  that  men  are  so  foolish  that  they  take 
care  to  avoid  what  mischiefs  may  be  done  them  by  polecats  or 
foxes,  but  are  content,  nay,  think  it  safety,  to  be  devoured  by 

4.  "Absolute  Power  Corrupts  Absolutely" 

This  is  a  bitter  indictment.  Contrary  to  modern  apologists  for 
totalitarian  laws  and  constitutions,  Locke  refuses  to  put  any  trust  in 
the  autocrat's  potential  benevolence:  "he  that  thinks  absolute  power 
purifies  men's  blood,  and  corrects  the  baseness  of  human  nature,  need 
read  but  the  history  of  this,  or  any  other  age,  to  be  convinced  to 
the  contrary."  23  Lord  Acton's  affirmative  version  of  Locke's  thesis 
is  well  known:  "Power  tends  to  corrupt  and  absolute  power  corrupts 
absolutely."  24 

Acceptance  of  this  idea  need  not  include  an  acceptance  of  Locke's 
pessimistic  views  on  "the  baseness  of  human  nature."  Man  acts  from 
many  motives,  which  under  different  circumstances  operate  with 
different  strengths.  Both  self-centeredness  and  community-centered- 
ness  seek  expression;  and  it  depends  on  the  cultural  heritage  and  the 
over-all  setting  whether  one  or  the  other  of  them  will  prevail.  A 
governmental — or  proprietary — order  leading  to  the  emergence  of 
absolute  power  encourages  and  enables  the  holders  of  this  power  to 
satisfy  their  own  interests  absolutely.  It  is  for  this  reason  that 
agrarian  despotism,  like  industrial  despotism,  corrupts  absolutely 
those  who  bask  in  the  sun  of  total  power. 

5.  The  Rulers'  Publicity  Optimum 

The  corrupting  influence  is  further  consolidated  by  a  one-sidedly 
manipulated  public  opinion.  Public  opinion  may  be  shaped  in  a 
number  of  ways;  and  here,  as  elsewhere,  the  rulers'  and  the  people's 
interests  diverge  sharply.  This  becomes  clear  as  soon  as  the  major 
alternatives  are  outlined. 

The  rulers'  publicity  optimum  is  maintained  whenever  the  gov- 
ernment's real  or  alleged  achievements  are  given  a  maximum  of  un- 
critical publicity,  while  the  people's  experiences,  sufferings,  and 
views  receive  a  minimum  of  notice.  The  people's  publicity  optimum 


combines  a  full  presentation  of  the  government's  achievements  and 
shortcomings.  Intermediate  arrangements  favor  the  government 
without  keeping  the  nongovernmental  forces  of  society  from  stating 
their  own  case. 

Independent  popular  criticism  differs  both  in  quality  and  intent 
from  the  many  and  continued  criticisms  made  by  leading  members 
of  the  officialdom.  Bureaucratic  criticism  is  vital  to  the  proper 
functioning  of  complex  administration,  but  it  is  voiced  either  behind 
closed  doors  or  in  publications  accessible  only  to  a  limited  number 
of  educated  persons,  who  are  usually  members  of  the  ruling  group. 
In  both  cases,  the  people's  problems  are  viewed  essentially  from 
the  standpoint  of  a  more  or  less  rationally  conceived  government 

Wielding  total  power,  the  masters  of  the  hydraulic  state  can 
readily  maintain  the  rulers'  publicity  optimum.  Under  socially  un- 
differentiated conditions,  the  government's  (frequently  the  sover- 
eign's) voice  drowns  out  all  criticism  except  as  it  may  appear  in  such 
inconsequential  media  as  popular  tales  and  songs.  More  differ- 
entiated conditions  provide  additional  outlets  in  secondary  religions 
and  philosophies,  in  popular  short  stories,  novels,  and  plays.  But 
even  these  media  remain  significantly  feeble.  In  contrast  to  the  in- 
dependent writers  who,  under  Western  absolutism,  challenged  not 
only  the  excesses  but  the  foundations  of  the  despotic  order,  the 
critics  of  hydraulic  society  have  in  almost  every  case  complained  only 
of  the  misdeeds  of  individual  officials  or  of  the  evils  of  specific 
governmental  acts.**  Apart  from  mystics  who  teach  total  withdrawal 
from  the  world,  these  critics  aim  ultimately  at  regenerating  a  system 
of  total  power,  whose  fundamental  desirability  they  do  not  doubt. 

6.  The  Two-fold  Function  of 
the  Benevolence  Myth 

a.  It  Stresses  the  Long-range  Interest  of  the  Despotic 

The  advantages  of  the  benevolence  myth  for  the  despotism  which 
it  glorifies  are  twofold.  By  presenting  the  ruler  and  his  aides  as 

c.  In  the  total  managerial  societies  of  today,  state-directed  popular  criticism  is  used 
to  supplement  and  dramatize  the  government's  criticism  of  problematic  elements, 
particularly  in  the  middle  and  lower  echelons  of  the  bureaucracy.  Criticism  of  this 
kind  has  been  encouraged  in  many  hydraulic  societies.  The  letters  to  Stalin  differ 
technically,  but  not  institutionally,  from  the  letters  and  petitions  addressed  in  the  past 
to  Oriental  despots. 

d.  Often  government  functionaries  indict  blundering  fellow  functionaries  or  harmful 
administrative  procedures  more  sharply  than  do  persons  who  are  not  part  of  the 

CHAPTER    4,    C  135 

eager  to  achieve  the  people's  rationality  optimum,  they  enable  the 
official  spokesmen  to  educate  and  discipline  the  members  of  their 
own  group.  The  holder  of  power,  who  operates  below  the  rulers' 
rationality  minimum,  endangers  the  safety  of  the  governmental 
apparatus,  whereas  one  who  operates  above  this  level  enhances  the 
stability  of  the  regime.  He  exploits  his  orchard  as  an  intelligent 
gardener  should.25  Moreover,  the  ruler  and  his  men  must  not  weaken 
their  position  by  crude  managerial  neglect,  excessive  taxation,  or 
provocative  injustice.  The  myth  of  an  unselfish  (benevolent)  des- 
potism dramatizes  these  desiderata  which,  consciously  or  uncon- 
sciously, are  underwritten  by  all  thoughtful  members  of  the  ruling- 

b.  It  Weakens  Potential  Opposition 

More  important  still  than  the  impact  of  the  benevolence  myth  on 
the  holders  of  power  is  its  effect  on  the  nongovernmental  forces  of 
society.  The  myth  admits  that  individual  sovereigns  and  officials 
may  be  unworthy,  but  it  depicts  the  despotic  order  as  fundamentally 
good— in  fact,  as  the  only  reasonable  and  commendable  system  of 

Thus  the  embittered  subject,  who  is  permanently  exposed  to  such 
propaganda,  cannot  well  strive  for  the  creation  of  a  new  and  less 
despotic  order.  He  and  others  who  feel  as  he  does  may  withdraw  to 
the  mountains.  They  may  kill  some  local  officials.  They  may  defeat 
the  government's  men  in  arms.  They  may  even  overthrow  a  tottering 
dynasty.  But  eventually  they  will  only  revive — and  rejuvenate — the 
agromanagerial  despotism  whose  incompetent  representatives  they 
eliminated.  The  heroes  of  China's  famous  bandit  novel,  the  Shui-hu 
Ch'uan,  could  think  of  nothing  better  to  do  than  to  set  up  on  their 
rebel  island  a  miniature  version  of  the  very  bureaucratic  hierarchy 
which  they  were  so  fiercely  combating. 

c.  The  Presence  of  Good  Sovereigns  and  Just  Officials 
Fails  to  Upset  the  Prevailing  Trend 

If  man  were  exclusively  self-centered,  the  result  of  all  this  would  be 
very  simple  indeed.  And  very  sad.  But  man  is  also  community- 
centered.  And  this  side  of  his  character  finds  expression  also  in 
hydraulic  society.  To  be  sure,  under  the  conditions  of  agrarian 
despotism,  it  is  difficult  to  be  a  good  sovereign  or  a  just  official.  But 
it  is  not  impossible.  Throughout  the  hydraulic  world  serious- 
minded  rulers  attended  to  their  managerial  and  judicial  duties  con- 
scientiously, and  honest  officials  strove  to  prevent  fiscal  and  judicial 
oppression.   Courageous  functionaries  insisted  on  what  they  con- 


sidered  proper  policies,  although  by  doing  so  they  opposed  the 
wishes  of  powerful  superiors,  and  occasionally  even  of  the  sovereign 

But  those  who  pursue  such  a  course  clash  with  the  interest  of  the 
vast  self-indulgent  and  scheming  ruling  group;  and  history  shows 
that  only  a  handful  of  unusually  community-minded  (ethically 
"possessed")  persons  was  so  disposed.  Furthermore,  even  this  pa- 
thetically small  number  of  "good"  men  was  not  completely  aware 
of  how  slanted  the  rulers'  optimum  was,  which  they  recommended. 
Confucius'  gentleman  bureaucrat,  the  ideal  ruler  of  the  Bhagavad- 
gltdj  and  the  "just"  statesmen  of  the  ancient  Roman  or  Islamic  Near 
East  all  try  to  be  fair  within  the  framework  of  a  society  which  takes 
the  patterns  of  despotic  power,  revenue,  and  prestige  for  granted. 

7.  Hydraulic  Despotism:  Benevolent  In  Form, 
Oppressive  in  Content 

Thus  agromanagerial  despots  may  present  their  regimes  as  benev- 
olent; actually,  however,  and  even  under  the  most  favorable  cir- 
cumstances, they  strive  for  their  own,  and  not  for  the  people's, 
rationality  optimum.  They  plan  their  hydraulic  enterprises  accord- 
ing to  what  benefits  their  might  and  wealth.  And  they  write  their 
own  ticket  as  fiscal  masters  of  the  national  surplus  and  as  conspicuous 

Stalin  claims  that  in  a  modern  industrial  apparatus  state  the 
culture  of  a  national  minority  is  national  in  form  and  socialist  in 
content.26  Experience  shows  that  the  "socialist"  (read:  apparatchik) 
substance  quickly  wipes  out  all  but  the  most  insignificant  national 
elements.  A  similar  mechanism  is  at  work  in  the  agrarian  apparatus 
state.  Paraphrasing  Stalin's  formula  and  replacing  myth  by  reality, 
we  may  truthfully  say  that  hydraulic  despotism  is  benevolent  in  form 
and  oppressive  in  content. 



otal  terror— total  submission 
—total  loneliness 


Man  is  no  ant.  His  efforts  to  escape  from  freedom  *  show  him  am- 
bivalently attracted  by  what  he  ambivalently  abandons.  The  urge  to 
act  independently  is  an  essential  attribute  of  homo  sapiens,  and  a 
highly  complex  one.  Not  all  of  its  components  are  socially  valuable; 
but  among  them  is  man's  most  precious  motivating  force:  the  urge 
to  obey  his  conscience,  all  external  disadvantages  notwithstanding. 

What  happens  to  man's  desire  for  autonomy  under  the  conditions 
of  total  power?  One  variant  of  total  power,  hydraulic  despotism, 
tolerates  no  relevant  political  forces  besides  itself.  In  this  respect  it 
succeeds  on  the  institutional  level  because  it  blocks  the  develop- 
ment of  such  forces;  and  it  succeeds  on  the  psychological  level, 
because  it  discourages  man's  desire  for  independent  political  action. 
In  the  last  analysis,  hydraulic  government  is  government  by  in- 


i.  The  Need 

Man  is  no  ant.  But  neither  is  he  a  stone.  A  policy  that  upholds  the 
rulers'  publicity  optimum  confuses  the  people's  mind,  without  how- 
ever eliminating  their  feelings  of  frustration  and  unhappiness.  Un- 
checked, these  feelings  may  lead  to  rebellious  action.  To  counter  this 
dangerous  trend  the  hydraulic  regime  resorts  to  intimidation.  Terror 
is  the  inevitable  consequence  of  the  rulers'  resolve  to  uphold  their 
own  and  not  the  people's  rationality  optimum. 


138  total  terror,  submission,  loneliness 

2.  Its  Official  Recognition: 
"Punishment  Is  the  King!" 

Many  spokesmen  of  hydraulic  despotism  have  emphasized  the  need 
for  rule  by  punishment.  Such  a  policy  may  be  justified  by  the  argu- 
ment that  guiltless  people  are  few.1  Confucius  preferred  education 
to  punishment;  yet  he,  too,  believed  that  it  would  take  a  hundred 
years  of  good  government  "to  transform  the  violently  bad  and  to 
dispense  with  capital  punishment."  2 

Thus  with  varying  arguments,  punishment  has  been  viewed  as  an 
essential  tool  of  successful  statecraft.  The  Hindu  law  book  of  Manu 
establishes  fear-inspiring  punishment  as  the  foundation  of  internal 
peace  and  order.  Punishment,  which — of  course — must  be  just,  makes 
everyone  behave  properly.3  Without  it  caste  barriers  would  be 
crossed;  and  all  men  would  turn  against  their  fellows.  "Where 
Punishment  with  a  black  hue  and  red  eye  stalks  about,"  *  subjects 
live  at  peace.  "The  whole  world  is  kept  in  order  by  punishment."  5 

By  punishment  the  ruler  protects  the  weak  against  the  strong, 
sacrifice  against  animal  violation,  property  against  its  (nongovern- 
mental) enemies  and  social  superiority  against  assaults  from  below. 
"If  the  king  did  not,  without  tiring,  inflict  punishment  on  those 
worthy  to  be  punished,  the  stronger  would  roast  the  weaker,  like 
fish  on  a  spit:  The  crow  would  eat  the  sacrificial  cake  and  the  dog 
would  lick  the  sacrificial  viands,  and  ownership  would  not  remain 
with  any  one,  the  lower  ones  would  (usurp  the  place  of)  the  higher 
ones."  8  Thus  "punishment  alone  governs  all  created  beings,  punish- 
ment alone  protects  them,  punishment  watches  over  them  while 
they  sleep."  7  Indeed,  "punishment  is  .  .  .  the  king."  8 

The  rulers  of  ancient  Mesopotamia  claimed  that  they  received 
their  power  from  the  great  Enlil.9  This  terrifying  god  symbolizes  "the 
power  of  force,  of  compulsion.  Opposing  wills  are  crushed  and  beaten 
into  submission."  10  Although  he  is  supposed  to  use  his  cruel  might 
judiciously,11  "man  can  never  be  fully  at  ease  with  Enlil  but  feels 
a  lurking  fear."  12  This  being  so,  the  sovereign's  readiness  to  identify 
himself  with  Enlil  or  with  deities  descended  from  him  is  deeply 
significant.  The  Sumerian  kings  usually  identified  themselves  with 
Enlil  directly.13  The  Babylonians  upheld  the  basic  idea,  but  modi- 
fied it.  Hammurabi  pictured  himself  as  having  been  "called"  by 
Enlil;  and  he  names  Enlil's  son,  Sin,  as  his  divine  father.14  In  both 
cases  the  Mesopotamian  rulers  stressed  the  terroristic  quality  of  their 

The  terror  inherent  in  Pharaonic  despotism  is  symbolized  by  the 
poisonous  Uraeus  snake,  which  lies  coiled  on  the  ruler's  forehead 
and  threatens  his  enemies  with  destruction.16  The  king's  actions  are 

CHAPTER    5,    B  139 

also  compared  with  those  of  the  fear-inspiring  lion  goddess, 

Chinese  statecraft  learned  to  express  its  need  for  terrifying  punish- 
ment in  the  rational  and  moral  form  of  Confucianism.  But  punish- 
ment was  the  primary  weapon  of  the  so-called  Legalists  and  of  such 
Legalist-influenced  Confucianists  as  Hsiin  Tsu.  And  it  remained  a 
cornerstone  of  official  policy  throughout  the  imperial  period.  What 
we  would  call  the  Ministry  of  Justice  was  known  in  traditional  China 
as  the  Ministry  of  Punishments. 

The  Islamic  ruler  saw  to  it  that  he  was  both  respected  and  feared.18 
The  Arabian  Nights,  which  depicts  Harun  al-Rashid  usually  ac- 
companied by  his  executioner,  presents  in  fictional  dress  a  historic 
truth.  The  executioner  was  a  standard  feature  of  the  Abbassid 

3.   The  Morphology  of  Violence 

To  be  sure,  all  governments  deserving  the  name  have  ways  of  im- 
posing their  will  on  their  subjects,  and  the  use  of  violence  is  always 
among  them.  But  different  societies  develop  different  patterns  of 
integrating  (or  fragmenting)  violence  and  of  controlling  (or  not  con- 
trolling) it. 

a.  Integrated  versus  Fragmented  Patterns  of  Violence 

In  ancient  Greece,  free  men  ordinarily  wore  arms — according  to 
Thucydides,  "because  their  homes  were  undefended."  17  In  other 
words,  the  government  did  not  monopolize  the  use  of  force.  With 
the  growth  of  public  safety  the  early  custom  disappeared  in  most  city 
states;  "  but  the  citizens,  who  were  potential  warriors,  were  still  per- 
mitted to  keep  the  tools  of  violence  in  their  homes.  Pictorial  evidence 
portraying  the  start  of  a  campaign  shows  "mostly  the  woman  bring- 
ing the  weapons  from  the  home  to  the  departing  man."  19 

In  Medieval  Europe  the  semi-independent  feudal  lords  from  the 
beginning  represented  important  secondary  centers  of  military  action, 
and  in  the  course  of  time  many  towns  developed  their  own  armed 
forces.  These  feudal  and  urban  nuclei  of  political  and  military  life 
were  free  to  use  violence  both  within  their  own  jurisdictions  and 
against  one  another.  The  vassal,  who  appeared  before  his  sovereign 

a.  See  Breasted,  1927,  I:  327,  and  cf.  II:  92,  and  IV:  166;  Erman,  1923:  78  ff.;  and 
Wilson,  1950:  11.  According  to  one  story,  Sekhmet  emerged  as  the  suppressor  of  a 
conspiracy.  When  the  supreme  god  Re  "perceived  the  things  which  were  being 
plotted  against  him  by  mankind,"  he  conjured  up  a  force  to  crush  the  evil  schemers. 
Then  "Sekhmet  came  into  being."  She  quickly  "prevailed  over  mankind,"  and  desiring 
to  drink  human  blood — or  what  she  believed  to  be  human  blood,  "she  drank,  and  it 
was  good  in  her  heart"  (Wilson,  1950:  11).  Cf.  Erman,  1923:  78  ff. 


with  his  sword  at  his  side,  expressed  strikingly  the  fragmented  and 
balanced  pattern  of  violence  that  characterized  feudal  society. 

Concentration  of  the  legitimate  uses  of  force  in  the  hands  of  the 
state  does  not  occur  under  conditions  of  total  power  only.  Modern 
constitutional  government  restricts  private  violence  more  and  more. 
But  it  differs  from  agrarian  and  industrial  apparatus  states  in  that 
the  size,  quality  and  use  of  coercion  (army  and  police)  are  deter- 
mined by  the  nongovernmental  forces  of  society.  The  experiences 
of  classical  Greece  and  the  modern  West  show  that  a  country  may 
rally  powerful  armies  without  its  citizens  losing  control  over  them. 

b.  Controlled  versus  Uncontrolled  Violence 

Army  discipline  requires  unquestioning  subordination;  and  the 
commander  in  chief  of  a  well-coordinated  army — which  the  feudal 
hosts  were  not — rules  absolutely  within  the  limits  of  his  jurisdiction. 
However,  in  a  democratic  country  he  remains  responsible  to  the 
citizens  who  control  the  government.  General  Eisenhower's  com- 
ments on  the  Soviet  method  of  attacking  through  mine  fields  indicate 
the  institutional  alternatives.  In  "a  matter-of-fact  statement"  Marshal 
Zhukov  explained  to  the  American  general:  "When  we  come  to  a 
mine  field  our  infantry  attacks  exactly  as  if  it  were  not  there.  The 
losses  we  get  from  personnel  mines  we  consider  only  equal  to  those 
we  would  have  gotten  from  machine  guns  and  artillery  if  the  Ger- 
mans had  chosen  to  defend  that  particular  area  with  strong  bodies  of 
troops  instead  of  with  mine  fields."  Eisenhower  adds  drily:  "I  had 
a  vivid  picture  of  what  would  happen  to  any  American  or  British 
commander  if  he  pursued  such  tactics,  and  I  had  an  even  more 
vivid  picture  of  what  the  men  in  any  one  of  our  divisions  would 
have  to  say  about  the  matter  had  we  attempted  to  make  such  a 
practice  a  part  of  our  tactical  doctrine."  20 

The  Soviet  way  saves  materiel  and  time;  and  it  suits  to  perfection 
the  rulers'  tactical  optimum.  Obviously  this  optimum  can  be  realized 
only  when  organized  violence  is  wielded  by  the  masters  of  an  un- 
checked state.  The  social  quality  of  organized  violence,  like  that  of 
other  governmental  functions,  changes  with  the  over-all  setting  in 
which  it  develops. 


The  subjects  of  an  agrarian  apparatus  state  have  little  opportunity 
to  argue  the  problem  of  uncontrolled  violence.  They  may  be  per- 
mitted the  possession  of  small  and  simple  weapons,  particularly  in 
the  villages,  which  have  to  ward  off  bandits.  But  the  organized  and 

CHAPTER   5,   <2  141 

military  use  of  coercion  is  essentially  concentrated  in  the  hands  of 
the  absolutist  rulers,  who  usually  give  audience  only  to  unarmed 
men.  In  hydraulic  society  the  monster  with  "a  black  hue  and  red 
eye"  is  no  watch-dog  tied  up  by  the  people,  but  a  tiger  that  moves 
at  will. 

1.  Its  Physical  Aspect 

Like  the  tiger,  the  engineer  of  power  must  have  the  physical  means 
with  which  to  crush  his  victims.  And  the  agromanagerial  despot  does 
indeed  possess  such  means.  He  exercises  unchecked  control  over 
the  army,  the  police,  the  intelligence  service;  and  he  has  at  his 
disposal  jailers,  torturers,  executioners,  and  all  the  tools  that  are 
necessary  to  catch,  incapacitate,  and  destroy  a  suspect. 

2.  Its  Psychological  Aspect 

a.  Unpredictability 

Furthermore,  he  can  employ  these  devices  with  maximum 
psychological  effect.  Everywhere  persons  wielding  great  govern- 
mental or  proprietary  power  like  to  shroud  certain  of  their  acts  in 
secrecy;  but  the  procedures  of  a  despotic  government  are  enigmatic 
because  of  the  very  nature  of  the  regime.  Accountable  only  to  them- 
selves, the  men  of  the  apparatus  tend  to  handle  even  insignificant 
matters  with  secretiveness;  and  they  raise  mystification  to  an  art 
when  they  want  to  intimidate  and  surprise.  Unpredictability  is  an 
essential  weapon  of  absolute  terror. 

b.  Lenin:  ".  .  .  power  not  limited  by  any  laws" 

Lenin  defined  the  dictatorship  of  the  proletariat — which  he  held 
to  be  the  heart  of  the  Soviet  regime — as  "a  power  not  limited  by  any 
laws."  x  Like  other  utterances  of  Lenin,  this  formula  combines  an 
impressive  half-truth  with  important  fallacies.  First,  the  Soviet 
dictatorship  was  never  controlled  by  the  Russian  workers;  and  there 
is  ample  evidence  that  Lenin  knew  this.  Second,  no  regime,  however 
dictatorial,  operates  without  normative  regulations  or  laws  of  some 
kind;  and  this,  too,  was  well  known  to  Lenin.  Before  he  made  the 
just-quoted  statement,  his  dictatorial  government  had  already  issued 
many  revolutionary  statutes  and  decrees.2  The  despot's  right  to  in- 
terpret, change,  and  override  previously  established  laws  is  a  funda- 
mental constitutional  and  legal  principle  of  absolutist  rule.  Lenin's 
definition  stresses  with  brutal  frankness  the  dictator's  unchecked 
power  to  use  laws  as  he  wishes.  In  the  sphere  of  terror  he  may  go 


so  far  that  it  becomes  difficult  to  distinguish  between  lawless  terror 
and  terror  by  law. 

c.  Lawless  Terror  and  Terror  by  Law 

A  chief  or  ruler  does  not  necessarily  override  the  laws  of  his 
hydraulic  community  when  he  himself  commits — or  gives  orders  to 
commit — acts  of  terrifying  brutality. 

In  smaller  hydraulic  tribes  autocratic  cruelty  is  no  issue,  because 
the  chief,  being  close  to  his  fellow  tribesmen,  is  unable  to  exert 
power  over  and  above  his  directing  functions.  This  is  the  case  among 
the  Suk  and  their  hydraulic  neighbors  and  throughout  the  Ameri- 
can Pueblos. 

In  larger  hydraulic  tribes  the  chief  may  seek  to  bolster  his  incipient 
autocracy  by  the  employment  of  spectacular  terror.  A  Chagga  chief, 
for  instance,  may  commit  all  manner  of  cruelties  against  his  sub- 
jects. Ndeserno  is  said  to  have  torn  the  hearts  from  his  victims' 
bodies  while  they  were  still  alive  and  to  have  had  them  roasted  for 
his  children.3  A  chieftain  who  went  to  such  extremes  was  con- 
templated with  grave  apprehension,  but,  according  to  Gutmann, 
"such  cruelties  against  individuals  did  not  harm  his  prestige."  On 
the  contrary,  the  fear  they  inspired  cemented  the  stability  of  the 

The  spectacular  terror  directed  by  the  rulers  of  ancient  Hawaii 
may  well  have  served  the  same  purpose;  5  and  the  so-called  Cannibal 
Texts  of  the  Old  Kingdom  suggest  a  similar  situation  in  prehistoric 
Egypt.  One  of  these  texts,  found  in  a  pyramid,  reveals  a  dead  ruler 
killing,  dissecting,  and  cooking  human  beings  in  the  nether  world  for 
his  gustatory  pleasure; 6  and  another  reveals  him  as  taking  "the 
wives  from  their  husbands  whenever  he  wants  to  and  according  to  his 
heart's  desire."  & 

In  more  differentiated  hydraulic  civilizations,  there  is  less  need  to 
bulwark  the  ruler's  exalted  position  by  spectacular  acts  of  autocratic 
ruthlessness.  Although  such  acts  do  not  completely  cease,  they  are 
now  initiated  mainly  by  excessively  cruel  (and/or  insecure)  sover- 
eigns and  by  the  heads  of  dynasties  which  operate  below  the  rulers' 
rationality  maximum.  Gaudefroy-Demombynes  describes  the  irra- 
tionally terroristic  quality  of  the  Abbassid  caliphate  as  follows: 
"Improvised  executions  and  the  exhibition  of  heads  are  part  of  the 
regular  life  of  the  Abbassid  court.  Beginning  with  the  reign  of  El 
Manc,our,  when  a  person  is  urgently  summoned  to  the  palace  by 
the  guards  of  the  caliph,  he  feels  that  he  has  a  good  chance  not  to 

a.  Sethe,  PT,  II:  354  ft..  The  Chagga  chiefs  seem  to  have  made  a  like  claim  on  all 
girls  and  women  of  their  realm  (Widenmann,  1899:  48;  cf.  Gutmann,  1909:  25). 

CHAPTER    5,    C  143 

return  alive.  He  makes  his  testament,  says  farewell  to  his  family,  and 
carries  his  shroud  under  his  arm."  b 

In  these  and  other  instances,  the  ruler's  terroristic  behavior  was 
above  rather  than  against  the  law.  On  the  other  hand,  officials  who 
resorted  to  extreme  brutalities  often  went  beyond  even  the  broadest 
possible  interpretation  of  the  law.  At  times  they  might  be  held 
accountable.  But  many  "lawless"  bureaucratic  terrorists  were  criti- 
cized only  after  they  were  dead. 

The  excesses  of  autocratic  and  bureaucratic  terror  are  an  extreme 
manifestation  of  human  behavior  under  total  power.  Institutionally, 
however,  they  are  probably  less  important  than  the  innumerable  acts 
of  terror  that  were  perpetrated  as  a  matter  of  routine  and  within 
the  flexible  frame  of  despotic  law.  It  was  this  routine  terror  in 
managerial,  fiscal,  and  judicial  procedures  that  caused  certain  ob- 
servers to  designate  the  government  of  hydraulic  despotism  as 
"government  by  flogging." 

3.  "Government  by  Flogging" 

a.  Terror  in  Managerial  Procedures 

"The  language  of  the  whip"  seems  to  have  been  employed 
regularly  in  the  state  corvees  of  ancient  Sumer.7  Under  the  Pharaohs, 
every  government  administrator  could  resort  to  corporal  punish- 
ment.8 The  pictorial  records  of  ancient  Egypt  show  men  conducting 
all  manner  of  public  enterprises  with  sticks  in  their  hands.9  In  the 
later  part  of  the  19th  century,  when  the  British  began  to  abolish 
"government  by  flogging,"  the  whip  was  still  standard  equipment  for 
insuring  the  success  of  the  hydraulic  corvee.10  Present-day  writers  who 
are  greatly  impressed  by  the  planned  economy  of  the  Incas  would 
do  well  to  remember  that  the  Inca  prince,  Garcilaso  de  la  Vega, 
glorying  in  his  forebears'  achievements,  took  it  for  granted  that  the 
one  sure  way  to  make  people  industrious  was  to  threaten  them  with 

b.  Terror  in  Fiscal  Procedures 

Since  the  days  of  the  Pharaohs,  reluctance  in  paying  taxes  was 
overcome  by  force.  A  famous  satire  of  the  New  Kingdom  tells  that 
the  Egyptian  peasant  who  failed  to  deliver  his  quota  of  grain  was 
"beaten,  tied  up,  and  thrown  into  the  ditch."  12  Irregularities  in 

b.  Gaudefroy-Demombynes,  1931:  384.  The  friend  of  an  Abbassid  caliph,  who  went 
to  the  court  every  Friday,  was  "gripped  by  an  intense  fear"  when  he  was  summoned 
on  a  different  day.  Had  he  been  maligned?  Had  he  been  found  wanting?  His  "anguish 
and  fear"  increased  until  he  discovered  to  his  immense  relief  that  the  sovereign 
merely  wanted  him  to  share  an  hour  of  idleness  and  pleasure  (Sauvaget,  1946:  62). 


handling  state  and  temple  property  also  called  for  corporal  punish- 

The  Sacred  Law  of  Islam  prohibited  torture;  but  the  tax  officials 
of  the  caliphs  apparently  found  it  impossible  to  fulfill  their  task 
without  resorting  to  violence.14  Under  the  Abbassid  dynasty,  torture 
was  a  concomitant  of  tax  gathering  until  the  year  800;  and  after  a 
short  interlude  of  about  twelve  years  it  was  invoked  again,  and  as 
brutally  as  ever.  Government  agents  "beat  the  people,  imprisoned 
them,  and  suspended  heavy  men  by  one  arm  so  that  they  almost 
died."  » 

The  Arthashastra  made  it  mandatory  for  police  and  court  judges 
to  see  that  rural  taxes  were  duly  paid,  and  to  use  force  if  necessary.16 
The  Law  Code  of  imperial  China  prescribed  beating  as  the  standard 
punishment  for  persons  who  failed  to  fulfill  their  fiscal  obligations.17 

c.  Terror  in  Judicial  Procedures 

The  Chinese  Code  carried  the  issue  of  violence  beyond  the  spheres 
of  fiscal  action.  In  case  of  continued  resistance  and/or  inability  to 
deliver,  the  defaulter  might  be  taken  before  a  judge;  and  if  necessary, 
fiscal  terror  might  be  replaced  by  judicial  terror.  Judicial  torture  to 
extort  evidence — and  frequently  also  to  punish — was  employed  in 
virtually  all  hydraulic  civilizations. 

In  Pharaonic  Egypt  beating  was  a  regular  adjunct  of  judicial 
procedures.18  "He  was  examined  with  the  rod"  was  standard  phrasing 
in  the  New  Kingdom.19 

Indian,  Chinese,  and  Islamic  sources  describe  judicial  terror  in 
considerable  detail.  The  Arthashastra  states  that  "Those  whose  guilt 
is  believed  to  be  true  shall  be  subjected  to  torture."  20  With  the 
exception  of  the  Brahmins,"  they  could  be  given  the  "six  punish- 
ments," the  "seven  kinds  of  whipping,"  the  "two  kinds  of  suspension 
from  above,"  and  the  "water-tube."  21  Regarding  persons  "who  have 
committed  grave  offences,"  the  famous  book  is  still  more  specific. 
They  could  be  given  the 

nine  kinds  of  blows  with  a  cane:  12  beats  on  each  of  the  thighs; 
28  beats  with  a  stick  of  the  tree  (nakta-mala);  32  beats  on, each 
palm  of  the  hands  and  on  each  sole  of  the  feet;  two  on  the 
knuckles,  the  hands  being  joined  so  as  to  appear  like  a  scorpion; 
two  kinds  of  suspensions,  face  downwards  (ullambane  chale); 
burning  one  of  the  joints  of  a  finger  after  the  accused  has  been 

c.  They  could  not  be  tortured  to  extort  evidence;  but  if  found  gu»Hy  of  3  very 
grave  crime,  they  could  be  branded  (Arthflfastra,  1923:  270). 

CHAPTER    5,    C  145 

made  to  drink  rice  gruel;  heating  his  body  for  a  day  after  he  has 
been  made  to  drink  oil;  causing  him  to  lie  on  coarse  grass  for 
a  night  in  winter.  These  are  the  18  kinds  of  torture.  .  .  .  Each 
day  a  fresh  kind  of  the  torture  may  be  employed.22 

In  particularly  serious  cases,  such  as  attempts  to  seize  the  king's 
treasury,  the  accused  could  be  "subjected  once  or  many  times  to  one 
or  all  of  the  above  kinds  of  torture."  2S 

The  Chinese  Law  Code  describes  a  number  of  instruments  used 
to  extract  evidence; 2i  and  the  writings  of  sincere  administrators 
elaborate  on  proper  and  improper  methods  of  torture.28 

Canonic  prohibitions  notwithstanding,  the  secular  courts  of  the 
caliphs  extorted  evidence  by  employing  "the  whip,  the  end  of  a  rope, 
the  stick,  and  the  strap  on  the  back  and  belly,  on  the  back  of  the 
head,  the  lower  parts  of  the  body,  feet,  joints,  and  muscles."  26 

Similar  methods  seem  to  have  persisted  in  the  Near  East  until 
recent  days.  In  19th-century  Egypt,  "justice,  such  as  it  was,  was 
almost  as  much  a  terror  to  the  innocent  witness  as  to  the  accused 
person  against  whom  testimony  was  borne."  27 

d.   Western  Correspondences  Noteworthy  for  Their 
Temporary  Strength  and  Their  Limitations 

Manifestly,  judicial  torture  is  widespread  in  the  hydraulic  world. 
But  is  it  specific?  After  all,  torture  had  a  definite  place  in  Roman 
law.  It  appears  prominently  in  late  feudal  and  postfeudal  Western 
legal  procedures  and  in  the  Inquisition.  And  it  survives  today  in  the 
third  degree. 

All  these  phenomena  must  indeed  be  recognized  for  what  they 
are.  They  remind  us  grimly  that  human  nature  is  the  same  every- 
where and  that  man  succumbs  to  the  corrupting  influence  of  power 
whenever  circumstances  permit.  Fortunately,  the  shape  of  Western 
institutions  kept  these  inclinations  from  asserting  themselves  last- 
ingly. But  the  momentum  they  gained  at  certain  times  and  in 
certain  places  precludes  the  complacent  assumption  that  what  hap- 
pened under  hydraulic  governments — and  what  is  happening  today 
in  the  totalitarian  states — cannot  happen  here. 

The  indigenous  free  men  of  ancient  Greece  and  republican  Rome 
did  not  employ  managerial  or  fiscal  terror  against  their  fellow  citi- 
zens— the  citizens  did  not  render  corvee  service  nor  did  they  pay 
substantial  taxes — and  "as  a  rule"  they  were  not  subjected  to  judicial 
torture.28  Their  societal  order  was  too  balanced  for  this;  yet  it  was 
not  sufficiently  balanced  to  prevent  the  use  of  managerial  and  judicial 
terror  against  certain  alien  and  unfree  elements.  In  Greece,  the 


position  of  most  slaves  was  "not  much  different  from  that  of  domestic 
animals."  29  Their  masters  were  free  to  punish  them  physically;  30 
and  the  not  too  numerous  state  slaves  occupied  in  public  works 
were  directed  by  foremen,  who,  frequently  slaves  themselves,  "had 
a  name  for  being  very  hard."  31  In  Greece  both  slaves  and  free  aliens 
were  the  targets  of  judicial  torture.32  In  republican  Rome  only  slaves 
were  so  treated.33 

The  crystallization  of  absolutist  power  under  the  empire  deprived 
the  Roman  citizens  of  the  protection  which  their  forefathers  had 
enjoyed  against  judicial  and  other  forms  of  governmental  terror. 
Roman  law  in  late  Roman  and  Byzantine  times  extended  judicial 
torture  to  the  bulk  of  ail  free  persons.34 

A  similar  change  occurred  in  the  later  part  of  the  Middle  Ages. 
Early  Frankish  (Salic)  law  permitted  only  persons  of  servile  status 
to  be  tortured.35  Conflicts  between  free  men  were  handled  by  courts 
composed  of  peers.  Serious  legal  issues  were  settled  by  ordeal  or 
judicial  combat;  36  and  the  burghers  in  medieval  towns,  who  orig- 
inally followed  these  procedures,  soon  preferred  more  humane  and 
rational  methods  of  determining  guilt  or  innocence.37 

The  introduction  of  judicial  torture — significantly  bulwarked  by 
references  to  Roman  law — coincides  with  the  rise  of  centralized  and 
despotic  power  on  a  territorial  and  national  scale.38  Most  historians 
point  out  that  the  procedures  of  the  absolutist  courts  superseded 
the  feudal  methods  of  ordeal  and  combat.**  Less  frequently  do  they 
mention  the  equally  important  fact  that  the  new  judicial  torture  also 
replaced  the  significant  beginnings  of  rational  judicial  procedure 
developed  in  the  burgher-controlled  towns.e 

Changes  in  judicial  procedures  were  certainly  intensified  by  the 
Inquisition;  and  anyone  who  studies  this  period  is  struck  by  the 
elaborate  and  cruel  tortures  employed  in  questioning  heretics.  How- 
ever, three  points  deserve  attention:  First,  the  Church,  which  based 
itself  on  medieval  Canonic  Law,  did  not  originally  recommend  the 
use  of  extreme  measures  against  heretics.39  Second,  judicial  torture 
was  probably  initiated  by  secular  agencies/  Third,  terroristic  proce- 
dures were  equally  harsh  under  those  absolutist  governments  of 
Europe  which,  in  the  course  of  the  Reformation,  had  dissociated 

d.  Cf.  Petit-Dutaillis,  1949:  309;  Lea,  i8g2:  480,  487  ff.,  500  ff.,  505.  Lea  describes  in 
some  detail  what  he  calls  the  "resistance  of  feudalism"  to  the  development  of  judicial 
torture  (1892:  494  ff.).  See  also  Williams,  1911:  72. 

e.  In  the  14th  century  the  Italian  communities  continued  to  combat  the  increasing 
use  of  torture  (Lea,  1892:  506  ff.);  and  in  Liibeck,  Germany's  foremost  city  of  burgher 
independence,  legal  orders  discouraging  ordeal,  judicial  duel,  and  torture  yielded  but 
slowly  to  the  new  absolutist  law  (ibid.:  483). 

f.  Lea,  1908,  I:  221;  cf.  Guiraud,  1929:  86.  In  the  12th  century,  long  before  judicial 
torture  was  institutionalized,  heretics  had  been  tortured  to  death  (Helbing,  1926:  106  ff.). 

CHAPTER    5,    C  147 

themselves  from  Rome.40  No  doubt  the  disintegration  of  medieval 
society  stimulated  both  heretic  tendencies  and  the  fanatic  desire  to 
eradicate  them;  but  it  was  only  within  the  framework  of  rising 
absolutist  state  power  that  this  desire  took  the  form  of  the  Inquisi- 

The  limitations  of  Western  absolutism  also  determined  the  point 
beyond  which  the  representatives  of  despotic  power  could  not  subdue 
their  own  subjects.  For  a  time  they  were  able  to  employ  judicial 
terror  in  secular  and  religious  matters,  but  managerial  and  fiscal 
terror  were  not  invoked  against  the  bulk  of  the  population.  With  the 
rise  of  modern  industrial  society  judicial  torture  was  eliminated  in 
the  heartlands  of  European  absolutism,  and  eventually  also  in  the 
terror-ridden  slave  economy  of  our  southern  states.  Presently,  public 
opinion  is  crusading  against  such  police  actions  as  the  third  degree. 
These  methods  were  never  legal;  their  illegal  use  is  receding  before 
the  growing  vigilance  and  strength  of  public-minded  citizen  organiza- 

Pre-Mongol  ("Kievan")  Russia  accepted  many  elements  of  By- 
zantine law,  but  not  the  use  of  corporal  punishment.  This  device, 
as  well  as  judicial  torture,  seems  to  have  emerged  in  Russia  only 
when  an  Oriental  type  of  despotism  arose  during  and  after  the  Tatar 
period.*1  Third  degree  methods  continued  to  be  employed  until  the 
last  decades  of  the  Tsarist  regime;  42  but  torture  as  a  means  of 
getting  evidence  was  discarded  early  in  the  19th  century,  when  the 
growth  of  property-based  industrial  forms  of  life  promoted  the 
restriction  of  many  absolutist  features  of  Russian  law  and  society.' 
It  was  left  to  the  masters  of  the  Communist  apparatus  state  to  reverse 
the  humanizing  trend  and  to  reintroduce  the  systematic  infliction  of 
physical  pain  for  the  purpose  of  extracting  "confessions."  h 

4.  Varying  Configurations  of  Terror  in  the 
Hydraulic  World 

a.  Relatively  Lenient  Developments 

In  different  areas  and  phases  of  the  hydraulic  world  the  methods  of 
terror  differed.  The  indigenous   Babylonian  government,   for  in- 

g.  Lea,  1892:  581;  Williams,  1911:  79.  For  occasional  late  occurrences  see  Williams, 
loc.  cit.,  and  Scott,  1943:  264.  George  Kennan,  who  at  the  close  of  the  19th  century, 
studied  the  life  of  political  prisoners  and  exiles  in  Siberia,  draws  attention  to  the 
arbitrary  methods  employed  by  the  Tsarist  police:  unjust  arrests  and  imprisonment, 
beating  and  torturing  (Kennan,  1891,  II:  52  ff.).  These  methods  were  certainly  brutal, 
but  the  growing  strength  of  public  opinion  restricted  them  increasingly;  and  a  com- 
parison of  the  conditions  described  by  Kennan  and  those  to  which  Soviet  prisoners 
are  subjected  today  reveals  an  abysmal  retrogression  in  judicial  procedure. 

h.  The  Communist  methods  of  judicial  terror  vary  with  time,  space,  circumstance, 


stance,  proceeded  close  to  the  rulers'  rationality  maximum;  and 
Babylonian  laws  known  to  us  mention,  as  means  of  establishing  guilt 
or  innocence,  the  ordeal,  the  oath,  and  witnesses,  but  not  torture.43 
To  be  sure,  judicial  torture  may  well  have  been  employed  in  cases 
involving  the  security  of  the  regime  (the  Code  does  not  discuss  these 
matters);  even  for  minor  offenses  against  the  interests  of  the  govern- 
ment punishment  was  terrify ingly  harsh;  *  and  there  is  no  reason 
to  assume  that  the  "language  of  the  whip,"  which  accompanied  the 
Sumerian  corvee,  was  not  used  by  Babylonian  master  builders  and 
master  irrigators.  But  while  the  Babylonian  state,  local  administra- 
tive councils  notwithstanding,  remained  an  absolutist  regime,  it  acted 
as  rationally  in  judicial  and  many  other  matters  as  could  be  expected 
under  the  conditions  of  an  agromanagerial  system  of  total  power. 

b.  Average  and  Excessive  Developments 

In  most  hydraulic  civilizations  the  rulers  employed  fully  all  major 
forms  of  terror,  the  managerial,  the  fiscal,  and  the  judicial.  In  doing 
so,  they  established  procedural  averages,  which  occasionally  were 
codified.  These  averages  usually  sufficed  to  satisfy  the  needs  of  the 
regime;  but  not  infrequently  those  who  applied  them  resorted  to 
methods  of  extreme  brutality,  which  besides  producing  quicker  re- 
sults, yielded  a  surplus  income  for  the  officials  who  perpetrated 

As  shown  above,  not  all  officials  went  to  such  lengths;  and  for 
various  reasons  extreme  malpractice  might  be  punished.  But 
"moderate"   excesses  tended  to  remain  unchallenged.  And  from 

and  purpose;  but  despite  a  certain  ingenuity  in  applying  psychological  devices,  the 
main  techniques  can  hardly  be  claimed  as  inventions.  The  "keeping-awake"  torture,  a 
seemingly  mild  but  actually  irresistible  way  of  breaking  the  will  of  a  person  under 
interrogation,  appeared  in  the  Roman  arsenal  of  planned  cruelty  under  the  name 
tormentum  vigiliae  (Helbing,  1926:  45).  It  was  re-"invented"  in  153a  by  Hippolytus  de 
Marsiliis  (Williams,  1911:  77).  The  starvation  torture  was  known  as  tormentum  famis 
(Helbing,  1926:  4k).  Certain  Communist  methods  parallel  procedure  used  by  the 
Inquisition.  Compare  the  abrupt  changes  from  bad  to  good  treatment  and  from 
good  treatment  to  bad,  and  the  facing  of  the  prisoner  with  confessions  or  alleged 
confessions  of  others  (Lea,  1908,  I:  415  ff.).  Cruder  methods  of  torture,  beginning  with 
simple  beating — Roman  forerunner:  the  verbera  (Helbing,  1926:  45) — attain  their  goal 
faster  than  the  more  "cultivated"  tormentum  vigiliae.  They  seem  to  be  extensively 
employed  particularly  in  times  of  crisis,  such  as  the  Great  Purge,  World  War  II,  and 
the  period  of  continued  stress  that  followed  this  war  (see  Beck  and  Godin,  1951:  53  ff.; 
Weissberg,  1951:  238  ff.,  242,  246,  296;  SLRUN,  1949:  56,  67,  74  ff.).  Of  course,  many 
Soviet  modes  of  torture  were  foreshadowed  by  Ivan  IV  and  his  successors. 

i.  Stealing  government  or  temple  property  was  punished  with  death  (Hammurabi, 
Sees.  6,  8.  See  also  translator  Meek's  note  js. 

CHAPTER    5,    D  149 

the  standpoint  of  the  commoner,  the  despotic  apparatus  remained 
irrationally  formidable  even  when  it  employed  only  the  standard 
methods  of  terror.  It  became  frightening  when  it  exhausted  its 
terroristic  potential. 


1.  Man's  Response  to  the  Threat  of  Total  Terror 

a.  The  Postulate  of  Common  Sense  and  the  Virtue  of 
Good  Citizenship:  Obedience 

Living  under  the  threat  of  total  terror,  the  members  of  a  hydraulic 
community  must  shape  their  behavior  accordingly.  If  they  want  to 
survive,  they  must  not  provoke  the  uncontrollable  monster.  To  the 
demands  of  total  authority  common  sense  recommends  one  answer: 
obedience.  And  ideology  stereotypes  what  common  sense  recom- 
mends. Under  a  despotic  regime,  obedience  becomes  the  basis  of 
good  citizenship. 

Of  course,  life  in  any  community  requires  some  degree  of  coor- 
dination and  subordination;  and  the  need  for  obedience  is  never 
completely  lacking.  But  in  the  great  agrarian  societies  of  the  West 
obedience  is  far  from  being  a  primary  virtue. 

In  the  democratic  city  states  of  ancient  Greece  the  good  citizen 
was  expected  to  display  four  major  qualities:  military  courage, 
religious  devotion,  civic  responsibility,  and  balanced  judgment.1 
Prior  to  the  democratic  period,  physical  strength  and  courage  were 
particularly  valued.2  But  neither  the  Homeric  age  nor  the  classical 
period  considered  unquestioning  obedience  a  virtue  in  a  free  man, 
except  when  he  served  in  the  army.  Total  submission  was  the  duty — 
and  the  bitter  fate — of  the  slave.  The  good  citizen  acted  in  accordance 
with  the  laws  of  his  community;  but  no  absolute  political  authority 
controlled  him  absolutely. 

Nor  did  the  loyalty  which  the  medieval  knight  owed  his  overlord 
result  in  total  submission.  The  feudal  contract  bound  him  to  follow 
his  sovereign  only  in  a  qualified  and  limited  way.  Among  the  virtues 
of  the  good  knight,  good  horsemanship,  prowess  in  arms,  and  courage 
ranked  high.3  Unquestioning  obedience  was  conspicuously  lacking. 

In  hydraulic  society  the  relation  between  the  ordinary  members 
of  the  community  and  their  leaders  was  regulated  very  differently. 
The  quest  for  integrated  subordination  appears  even  at  the  tribal 
level.  In  the  American  Pueblos  submissiveness  and  a  yielding  dis- 
position are  systematically  cultivated.4  Among  the  Chagga,  "respect 


for  the  chief  is  the  first  command,  which  the  parents  impress  upon 
their  children."  5 

In  state-centered  hydraulic  civilizations  the  supreme  holders  of 
power  are  not  as  close  to  the  people  as  they  are  in  Pueblo  society,  nor 
are  they,  as  in  certain  Pueblos  and  among  the  Chagga,  restrained 
by  clan  influence.  The  masters  of  an  agrarian  apparatus  state  make 
greater  demands  than  the  Pueblo  leaders;  and  their  means  for  en- 
forcing their  will  far  surpass  the  modest  political  devices  of  Chagga 

Thorkild  Jacobsen,  discussing  society  and  religion  in  ancient 
Mesopotamia,  lists  obedience  as  the  prime  virtue.  Essentially  "in 
Mesopotamia  the  'good  life'  was  the  'obedient  life.'  "°  Unlike  the 
warriors  of  Medieval  Europe,  who  often  fought  in  small  bands  and 
with  little  concern  for  a  ranking  leader,  the  Mesopotamians  felt  that 
"soldiers  without  a  king  are  sheep  without  their  shepherd,"  "peas- 
ants without  a  bailiff  are  a  field  without  a  plowman,"  and  "work- 
men without  a  foreman  are  waters  without  a  canal  inspector."  7  Thus 
the  subject  was  expected  to  carry  out  the  orders  of  his  foreman,  his 
bailiff,  and — of  course — his  king.  "All  these  can  and  must  claim 
absolute  obedience."  8  Submission  which  cannot  be  avoided  is  con- 
veniently rationalized:  "The  Mesopotamian  feels  convinced  that 
authorities  are  always  right."  9 

Similar  concepts  can  be  found  in  Pharaonic  Egypt.  A  ship  must 
have  its  commander,  a  gang  its  leader;  10  and  whoever  wants  to  sur- 
vive— and  to  succeed — must  fit  himself  into  the  edifice  of  superordi- 
nation  and  subordination:  "Bow  thy  back  to  thy  superior,  thy  over- 
seer from  the  palace  [the  government].  .  .  .  Opposition  to  a  supe- 
rior is  a  painful  thing  (for)  one  lives  as  long  as  he  is  mild."  " 

The  law  of  Hindu  India  prescribes  subordination  to  both  secular 
and  priestly  authority.  Those  who  oppose  the  king's  commands  suffer 
"various  kinds  of  capital  punishment."  l2 

The  Koran  exhorts  believers  to  obey  not  only  Allah  and  his 
prophet  but  also  "those  in  authority  amongst  you."  1S  In  the  ab- 
solutist states  established  by  Mohammed's  followers,  this  passage  was 
invoked  to  emphasize  the  basic  importance  of  obedience  in  main- 
taining governmental  authority.14 

Confucius  envisioned  an  authority  that  would  realize  the  ruler's 
rationality  maximum.  He  therefore  insisted  that  every  official  should 
judge  the  propriety  of  the  ruler's  actions;  and  when  conflict  became 
serious,  a  top-ranking  minister  might  retire.15  Normally,  however, 
the  ideal  functionary  obeyed  his  ruler;  1C  and  reverence  toward  a 
superior  was  a  basic  duty.17  The  commoner  was  given  no  choice 
whatsoever.  Since  he  could  not  understand  the  issues  involved,  he 

CHAPTER    5,    D  15I 

had  to  be  "made  to  follow"  what  superior  authority  and  insight 
dictated.18  In  Confucius'  good  society,  as  in  its  Indian  and  Near 
Eastern  variants,  the  good  subject  was  the  obedient  subject. 

2.  Preparation  for  Total  Obedience: 
Disciplinary  Education 

The  good  subject  was  also  the  obedient  son.  For  Confucius  an 
education  that  demands  absolute  obedience  to  parent  and  teacher 
forms  the  ideal  foundation  on  which  to  build  absolute  obedience  to 
the  masters  of  society. 

No  similar  correlation  can  be  established  for  Medieval  Europe. 
The  son  of  a  feudal  knight  was  mercilessly  disciplined.  At  an  early 
age  he  was  compelled  to  ride  a  high  horse,  while  tied  to  the  saddle; 
and  to  toughen  him  further  he  was  buried  in  horse  manure.19  Curses 
and  blows  were  frequent  accompaniments  to  growth.  Feature  for 
feature,  the  early  education  of  the  young  feudal  knight  seems  to 
have  been  as  harsh,  or  harsher,  than  the  education  of  the  young  son 
of  an  Oriental  official.  And  the  apprenticeship  of  the  young  Euro- 
pean craftsman  was  no  bed  of  roses  either.20 

But  the  behavior  of  the  young  burghers  on  festive  occasions 
showed  that  the  educational  disciplines  to  which  they  had  been  ex- 
posed were  not  seriously  inhibiting,21  and  the  behavior  of  young 
knights  remained  equally  carefree.  Both  groups  matured  under  con- 
ditions that  were  built  on  contractual  relations  rather  than  on  ab- 
solute authority,  and  they  took  their  early  frustrations  as  the  passing 
experience  that  it  actually  was. 

Conversely,  similar — or  even  less  harsh — disciplines  may  be  emi- 
nently effective  for  assuring  total  submission.  In  ancient  Mesopo- 
tamia, "the  individual  stood  at  the  center  of  ever  wider  circles  of 
authority  which  delimited  his  freedom  of  action.  The  nearest  and 
smallest  of  these  circles  was  constituted  by  authorities  in  his  own 
family:  father  and  mother,  older  brother  and  older  sister."  22  And 
"obedience  to  the  older  members  of  one's  family  is  merely  a  begin- 
ning. Beyond  the  family  lie  other  circles,  other  authorities:  the 
state  and  society."  Each  and  every  one  of  them  "can  and  must  claim 
absolute  obedience."  23 

The  wisdom  of  ancient  Egypt  consciously  interlinks  obedience 
at  home  to  obedience  to  the  official.  The  obedient  son  "will  stand 
well  in  the  heart  of  the  official,  his  speech  is  guided  with  respect  to 
what  has  been  said  to  him."  2i  In  Hindu  India  the  demand  for  sub- 
ordination to  the  secular  and  priestly  authorities  is  reenforced  by 
the  demand  for  subordination  in  the  personal  spheres  of  life.  Obedi- 


ence  is  particularly  due  "the  teacher,  the  father,  the  mother,  and  an 
elder  brother."  2B 

Confucianism  describes  filial  piety  as  a  unique  preparation  for 
civic  obedience:  "There  are  few  who,  while  acting  properly  toward 
their  parents  and  older  brothers,  are  inclined  to  oppose  their  su- 
periors. And  there  is  nobody  who,  while  averse  to  opposing  his 
superiors,  is  inclined  to  making  a  rebellion."  26 

3.  The  Great  Symbol  of  Total  Submission: 

Education  teaches  man  to  obey  without  question,  when  despotic 
authority  so  demands.  It  also  teaches  him  to  perform  gestures  of 
reverence  when  the  symbol  rather  than  the  submissive  action  is  re- 
quired. True,  all  cultures  have  ways  of  demonstrating  respect;  and 
many  gestures  indicate  subordination.27  But  no  symbol  has  expressed 
total  submission  as  strikingly,  and  none  has  so  consistently  accom- 
panied the  spread  of  agrarian  despotism,  as  has  prostration. 

Total  submission  is  ceremonially  demonstrated  whenever  a  sub- 
ject of  a  hydraulic  state  approaches  his  ruler  or  some  other  repre- 
sentative of  authority.  The  inferior  man,  aware  that  his  master's 
wrath  may  destroy  him,  seeks  to  secure  his  good  will  by  humbling 
himself;  and  the  holder  of  power  is  more  than  ready  to  enforce  and 
standardize  the  symbols  of  humiliation. 

The  inferior  person  may  indicate  his  submissiveness  by  placing 
one  hand  over  the  other,  as  if  they  were  tied  together.28  He  may  raise 
his  open  hands  as  a  gesture  of  self-disarmament.0  Or  going  to  ex- 
tremes, he  may  fall  forward  on  all  fours  like  an  animal,  strike  his 
head  on  the  ground,  and  kiss  the  dust.  Under  the  shadow  of  Oriental 
despotism,  prostration  is  an  outstanding  form  of  saluting  the  sov- 
ereign or  other  persons  of  recognized  authority.  The  details  vary; 
and  occasionally  symbols  with  similar  intent  are  used.  Generally 
speaking,  however,  prostration  is  as  characteristic  for  hydraulic  so- 
ciety as  it  is  uncharacteristic  for  the  higher  agrarian  civilizations 
of  classical  antiquity  and  the  European  Middle  Ages. 

The  absence  of  prostration  in  primitive  hydraulic  societies  indi- 
cates the  limitations  of  chiefly  authority  under  tribal  conditions. 
The  Pueblo  Indians  hold  their  cacique  in  the  highest  esteem;  but 
there  are  no  evidences  of  the  demonstrative  submission  that  found 
open  expression  in  the  higher  hydraulic  civilizations  of  Aztec 
Mexico  or  Inca  Peru.  The  Chagga  tribesmen  hail  their  chieftain; 

a.  0strup,  1929:  28  ff.  Cf.  the  modern  "hands  up." 

CHAPTER    5,    D  153 

and  they  murmur  respectfully  when  he  arrives  or  rises.29  But  this 
apparently  is  as  far  as  their  display  of  deference  goes.30 

In  state-centered  hydraulic  civilizations  prostration  occurred  al- 
most everywhere.  In  ancient  Hawaii  political  power  was  sufficiently 
terrifying  to  make  the  commoners  crawl  before  their  rulers.6  In 
Inca  Peru,  even  the  highest  dignitary  approached  his  sovereign  like 
a  bearer  of  tribute,  his  back  bent  under  a  load.31  In  pre-Conquest 
Mexico  supreme  reverence  was  expressed  by  prostration.  Taught  in 
the  "colleges,"  82  it  was  performed  before  royalty,  men  of  distinc- 
tion,33 and  persons  believed  to  be  divine.34 

In  China  prostration  was  practiced  from  the  early  days  of  the 
Chou  dynasty — that  is,  during  the  pre-empire  period  of  the  terri- 
torial states;  35  and  it  prevailed  throughout  all  subsequent  phases  of 
Chinese  history.  The  experiences  of  the  European  envoys,  who  were 
asked  to  kowtow  before  the  Manchu  emperor,  reveal  both  the  im- 
portance of  the  custom  and  the  embarrassment  it  caused  Western 

In  the  classical  days  of  Hindu  India  great  respect  was  shown  by 
embracing  a  person's  feet;  and  the  king  seems  to  have  been  ap- 
proached in  an  attitude  of  prayer.36  Prostration  was  performed  be- 
fore deities  and  the  teacher's  young  wife.0  However,  in  the  later  part 
of  the  Hindu  period,  the  prime  gesture  of  total  submission  was 
also  performed  before  the  sovereign.37  Under  Muslim  rule  both  the 
sovereign  3S  and  venerable  Hindus  39  were  so  honored. 

The  importance  of  prostration  in  the  Near  East  can  be  amply 
documented.  The  records  of  Pharaonic  Egypt  describe  the  whole 
country  as  "prone  upon  the  belly"  before  a  representative  of  the 
king.40  Faithful  subordinates  are  shown  crawling,  and  kissing  (or 
sniffing)  the  monarch's  scent.41  Pictorial  evidence  suggests  that  in 
the  New  Kingdom  high  dignitaries  employed  other  gestures  of 
reverence;  42  but  contemporary  sources  do  not  say  that  they  ceased 
prostrating  altogether.  They  indicate  clearly  that  lowly  persons  and 
subject  peoples  continued  to  prostrate.43 

In  ancient  Mesopotamia  prostration  was  performed  before  the 
gods,  the  ruler,  and  other  distinguished  personalities,44  and  it  was 
performed  also  in  Achaemenian  Persia.45  It  persisted  in  the  Hel- 

b.  Fornander,  HAF,  VI:    12,  34  (religious  prostration),  26  (before  the  king's  idol); 
prostration  before  ruler:  Kepelino,  1932:  12;  Alexander,  1899:  26  ff.;  Blackman,  1899: 


c.  Cf.  Manu,  1886:  69.  In  the  second  case,  prostration  obviously  was  performed  in 

order  to  prevent  bodily  contact.  For  religious  prostration,  see  Jatakam,  III:  284;  IV:  231; 
V:  274;  VI:  302. 


lenistic  empires  of  the  Seleucids  4e  and  the  Ptolemies,47  and  also  in 
Sassanid  Persia.48  It  became  the  standard  gesture  of  reverence  in 
Eastern  Rome  on  the  eve  of  the  Byzantine  period.49  Needless  to  say, 
it  fitted  the  social  climate  of  Byzantium  to  perfection.50 

The  followers  of  Mohammed  originally  prostrated  only  in  prayer. 
Eventually,  however,  the  "Orientalized"  Arabs,  like  the  Greeks  be- 
fore them,  prostrated  also  in  secular  life.51  In  Ottoman  Turkey  the 
practice  prevailed  until  close  to  the  end  of  the  Sultanate.* 

Thus  in  the  hydraulic  world  prostration  was  the  outstanding  ex- 
pression of  submission  and  reverence.  Occasionally,  equivalent  ges- 
tures were  used  for  the  same  purpose;  and  in  a  number  of  cases 
prostration  spread  to  countries  that  were  not  ruled  by  Orientally 
despotic  governments.  However,  the  fate  of  the  proskynesis  in  Medi- 
eval Europe  shows  how  difficult  it  was  to  force  this  humiliating  salu- 
tation on  a  politically  balanced  society.  Some  rudiments  of  the  By- 
zantine ceremony  survived  in  the  ceremonial  of  the  Western 
Church;  yet  the  attempt  of  certain  Carolingian  rulers  to  uphold  it 
as  a  secular  ritual  did  not  succeed.  In  Sicily  under  Roger  II  and 
Frederick  II  prostration  was  practiced  temporarily  probably  under 
the  influence  of  the  Byzantines,52  or  the  Arabs,  who  immediately 
preceded  the  Norman  rulers.53 

No  doubt  usage  dulled  man's  sensitivity  to  the  humiliating  intent 
of  prostration,  and  aesthetic  accomplishment  sweetened  perform- 
ance. But  no  matter  how  much  prostration  was  rationalized,  it  re- 
mained through  the  ages  a  symbol  of  abject  submission.  Together 
with  managerial,  fiscal,  and  judicial  terror,  it  spectacularly  marked 
the  range — and  the  total  power — of  agrarian  despotism. 


1.  Loneliness  Created  by  Fear 

Demonstrative  and  total  submission  is  the  only  prudent  re- 
sponse to  total  power.  Manifestly,  such  behavior  does  not  gain  a 
superior's  respect;  but  other  ways  of  proceeding  invite  disaster. 
Where  power  is  polarized,  as  it  is  in  hydraulic  society,  human  rela- 
tions are  equally  polarized.  Those  who  have  no  control  over  their 
government  quite  reasonably  fear  that  they  will  be  crushed  in  any 
conflict  with  its  masters. 

And  the  formidable  might  of  the  state  apparatus  can  destroy  not 
merely  objectionable  nongovernmental  forces — with  equal  thor- 
oughness it  may  also  overwhelm  individual  members  of  the  ruling 

d.  0strup,  1929:  32;  Lane,  1898:  211  (kissing  the  feet  as  a  sign  of  abject  submission). 

CHAPTER    5,    E  155 

group,  the  ruler  himself  included.  Many  anxieties  darken  the  path 
of  life;  but  perhaps  none  is  as  devastating  as  the  insecurity  created  by 
polarized  total  power. 

a.  The  Ruler:  Trust  No  One! 

The  ruler,  being  most  illustrious,  is  also  most  to  be  envied.  Among 
those  near  him,  there  are  always  some  who  long  to  replace  him. 
And  since  constitutional  and  peaceful  change  is  out  of  the  question, 
replacement  usually  means  one  thing  and  one  thing  only:  physical 
annihilation.  The  wise  ruler  therefore  trusts  no  one. 

For  obvious  reasons  the  innermost  thoughts  of  despots  have  been 
little  publicized.  But  observable  behavior  and  utterances  confirm 
our  assumption.  Egyptian  papyri  preserve  what  is  said  to  be  a 
Pharaoh's  advice  to  his  son.  The  message  reads:  "Hold  thyself  apart 
from  those  subordinate  to  (thee),  lest  that  should  happen  to  whose 
terrors  no  attention  has  been  given.  Approach  them  not  in  thy 
loneliness.  Fill  not  thy  heart  with  a  brother,  nor  know  a  friend.  .  .  . 
(even)  when  thou  sleepest,  guard  thy  heart  thyself,  because 
no  man  has  adherents  on  the  day  of  distress."  x 

The  Arthashastra  specifies  the  dangers  which  surround  the  ruler, 
and  it  discusses  the  many  means  by  which  they  can  be  averted.  His 
residence  must  be  made  safe.  Measures  must  be  taken  against  poi- 
soning.2 All  members  of  his  entourage  must  be  watched  and  con- 
trolled. The  king  must  spy  on  his  prime  minister.3  He  must  beware 
of  his  close  friends,*  of  his  wives,5  of  his  brothers,8  and  most  particu- 
larly of  his  heir  apparent.  According  to  an  authority  frequently 
quoted  in  the  classic  of  Indian  despotism,  "Princes,  like  crabs,  have 
a  notorious  tendency  of  eating  up  their  begetter."  7  To  prevent  this 
from  happening,  the  manual  lists  numerous  ways  by  which  a  ruler 
can  protect  himself  against  his  son.8 

b.  The  Official:  Eternal  Suspicion 

Nor  does  the  official  live  securely.  "Self-protection  shall  be  the 
first  and  constant  thought  of  a  wise  man;  for  the  life  of  a  man  un- 
der the  service  of  a  king  is  aptly  compared  to  life  in  fire;  whereas 
fire  burns  a  part  or  the  whole  of  the  body,  if  at  all,  the  king  has  the 
power  either  to  destroy  or  to  advance  the  whole  family."  9 

A  Persian  variant  stresses  particularly  the  danger  that  lurks  be- 
hind seeming  bureaucratic  safety  and  success:  "Should  [the  ruler] 
at  any  time  pretend  to  you  that  you  are  completely  secure  with  him, 
begin  from  that  moment  to  feel  insecure;  if  you  are  being  fattened 


by  someone,  you  may  expect  very  quickly  to  be  slaughtered  by 

And  the  need  for  eternal  suspicion  is  by  no  means  confined  to 
those  occupying  the  top  of  the  bureaucratic  pyramid.  In  traditional 
China,  as  in  other  hydraulic  civilizations,  "high  officials  cannot  but 
be  jealous  of  those  below  them,  for  it  is  from  that  quarter  that  their 
rivals  are  to  be  dreaded.  The  lower  officials,  on  the  other  hand,  are 
not  less  suspicious  of  those  above  them,  for  it  is  from  that  quarter 
that  their  removal  may  be  at  any  moment  effected." 


c.  The  Commoner:  the  Fear  of  Being  Trapped  by  Involvement 

The  commoner  is  confronted  with  problems  of  a  very  different 
kind.  He  is  not  worried  by  the  pitfalls  inherent  in  autocratic  or 
bureaucratic  power,  but  by  the  threat  which  this  power  presents  to 
all  subjects.  A  regime  that  proceeds  unchecked  in  the  fields  of  taxa- 
tion, corvee,  and  jurisprudence  is  capable  of  involving  the  com- 
moners in  endless  predicaments.  And  caution  teaches  them  to  avoid 
any  unnecessary  contacts  with  their  government. 

Smith  ascribes  the  mutual  distrust  that,  according  to  him,  prevails 
in  traditional  China  to  the  people's  fear  of  getting  involved.12  In  the 
Arabian  Nights,  a  corpse  is  shoved  from  door  to  door,  because  each 
house  owner  is  convinced  that  the  authorities  will  hold  him  respon- 
sible for  the  death  of  the  unknown  man.  The  frequently  observed 
reluctance  to  help  a  drowning  stranger  is  caused  by  similar  reason- 
ing: If  I  fail  to  rescue  the  poor  devil,  how  shall  I  prove  to  the  au- 
thorities that  I  did  not  plan  his  submersion? 

Those  who  walk  away  when  they  can  be  of  help  are  neither  dif- 
ferent from  nor  worse  than  other  human  beings.  But  their  behavior 
makes  it  clear  that  voluntary  participation  in  public  matters,  which 
is  encouraged  in  an  open  society,  is  extremely  risky  under  conditions 
of  total  power.  The  fear  of  getting  involved  with  an  uncontrollable 
and  unpredictable  government  confines  the  prudent  subject  to  the 
narrow  realm  of  his  personal  and  professional  affairs.  This  fear  sepa- 
rates him  effectively  from  other  members  of  the  wider  community 
to  which  he  also  belongs. 

2.  The  Alienation  Potential  of  Total  Power 

Of  course,  separation  is  not  necessarily  alienation:  an  artisan  whose 
forebears  left  their  rural  community  may  consider  himself  different 
from  the  inhabitants  of  his  home  village.  Or  an  intellectual  may  feel 
himself  out  of  tune  with  his  co-nationals,  or  in  times  of  crisis  he 
may  completely  reject  a  social  order  that  apparently  has  no  use  for 

CHAPTER    5,    E  157 

him.  In  such  situations  he  may  know  loneliness.  But  as  long  as  he 
can  join  with  others  of  like  mind,  his  alienation  from  society  will 
be  only  partial. 

And  this  partial  alienation  differs  profoundly  from  total  aliena- 
tion. Only  when  a  person  believes  he  is  deserted  by  all  his  fellows 
and  when  he  is  unable  to  see  himself  as  an  autonomous  and  inner- 
directed  entity,  only  then  can  he  be  said  to  experience  total  aliena- 
tion. Under  the  terror  of  the  semimanagerial  agrarian  apparatus 
state  he  may  know  total  loneliness  without  total  alienation.  Under 
the  terror  of  the  modern  total  managerial  apparatus  state  he  may 
suffer  total  alienation.  Persistent  isolation  and  brainwashing  may 
bring  him  to  the  point  where  he  no  longer  realizes  he  is  being  de- 

3.  Every-day  Adjustments 

There  were  many  lonely  people  among  the  free  men  of  classical 
Greece;  a  and  there  are  many  lonely  people  in  the  democratic  coun- 
tries of  today.  But  these  free  individuals  are  lonely  in  the  main  be- 
cause they  are  neglected  and  not  because  they  are  threatened  by  a 
power  that,  whenever  it  wants  to,  can  reduce  human  dignity  to 
nothingness.  A  neglected  person  can  maintain  associations  of  some 
kind  with  a  few  relatives  or  friends;  and  he  may  overcome  his  pas- 
sive and  partial  alienation  by  widening  his  associations  or  by  estab- 
lishing new  ways  of  belonging. 

The  person  who  lives  under  conditions  of  total  power  is  not  so 
privileged.  Unable  to  counteract  these  conditions,  he  can  take  refuge 
only  in  alert  resignation.  Eager  to  avoid  the  worst,  he  must  always  be 
prepared  to  face  it.  Resignation  has  been  an  attitude  of  many  free 
individuals  at  different  times  and  in  different  segments  of  open  and 
semi-open  societies.  But  prior  to  the  rise  of  the  industrial  apparatus 
state  it  was  a  predominant  attitude  mainly  within  the  realm  of  Orien- 
tal despotism.  Significantly,  stoicism  arose  in  antiquity  when  the  bal- 
anced society  of  classical  Greece  gave  way  to  the  Hellenistic  system 
of  total  power  initiated  by  Alexander. 

4.  Total  Loneliness  in  the  Hour  of  Doom 

The  hour  of  doom  realizes  what  every-day  life  foreshadows.  The 
methods  of  final  destruction  operate  in  one  way  in  a  democratically 
balanced  world  and  in  another  under  the  rule  of  total  power. 
The  free  citizen  of  an  open  society  may  fear  severe  punishment 

a.  The  tragic  and  permanent  alienation  of  the  slave  is  too  obvious  to  need  elabora- 


/      he  core,  the  margin,  and  the  submargin 
of  hydraulic  societies 


1.  Some  Basic  Results 

Our  inquiry  has  led  to  several  basic  conclusions.  First,  the  institu- 
tional order,  hydraulic  society,  cannot  be  explained  by  reference  to 
geographical,  technological,  and  economic  factors  alone.  While  re- 
sponse to  the  natural  setting  is  a  key  feature,  it  plays  a  formative 
hydraulic  role  only  under  very  specific  cultural  conditions.  And  it 
involves  organizational  rather  than  technological  changes.  Second, 
some  features  of  hydraulic  society  appear  also  in  other  agrarian 
orders.  But  hydraulic  society  is  specific  in  the  quality  and  weight  of 
two  of  its  features  (hydraulic  organization  and  agrohydraulic  des- 
potism). And  it  is  their  effective  combination  that  brings  into  being 
an  operational  whole,  a  "going  concern"  which  is  able  to  perpetuate 
itself  over  millennia.  The  historian  of  human  freedom  must  face 
this  fundamental  empirical  fact:  among  the  world's  higher  pre- 
industrial  civilizations,  hydraulic  society,  the  most  despotic  of  them, 
has  outlasted  all  others. 

2.  Three  Problems  Deserving  Further  Investigation 

Why  does  hydraulic  society  show  such  persistence?  Is  it  because  of 
its  state-managed  system  of  hydraulic  agriculture?  An  upholder  of 
the  economic  interpretation  of  history  will  believe  this;  indeed  Marx 
himself  argued  so. 

But  it  is  significant  that  Marx  and  Engels  viewed  the  Tsarist 
government  of  post-Mongol  Russia  as  Orientally  despotic,1  although 
both  certainly  knew  that  Russian  agriculture  was  not  hydraulic. 
The  difficulty  from  the  standpoint  of  the  economic  determinist 
is  manifest;  and  it  is  increased  when  we  realize  that,  beside  Tsarist 
Russia,  certain  other  agrodespotic  states  fulfilled  the  vital  organiza- 



tional  and  acquisitive  functions  of  hydraulic  society  without  main- 
taining a  hydraulic  economy  proper.  The  capacity  of  these  regimes  to 
perpetuate  themselves  successfully  suggests  a  decisive  developmental 
role  for  the  organizational  and  power  features  of  the  agromanagerial 

Obviously  the  issue  is  highly  important,  not  only  theoretically  and 
for  the  past,  but  politically  and  for  the  present.  It  is  for  this  reason 
that  in  this  chapter  we  shall  examine  the  peculiarities  and  the  inter- 
relation of  the  core  and  the  margin  of  hydraulic  society.  In  the 
chapters  immediately  following  we  shall  analyze  two  other  aspects 
of  the  matter:  the  power-determined  character  of  private  property 
and  class  rule  in  the  hydraulic  world. 

3.   Problems  of  Hydraulic  Density 

How  hydraulic  was  hydraulic  society?  Obviously  there  are  areas  of 
maximum  hydraulic  density  and  others  which,  although  they  are 
hydraulically  less  dense,  may  still  be  considered  hydraulic  societies 
proper.  What  is  the  institutional  pattern  of  the  margin  of  hydraulic 
society?  And  at  what  point  does  this  margin  lose  its  societal  identity? 
Is  there  an  institutional  divide  beyond  which  features  of  hydrau- 
lic society  occur  only  sporadically  in  a  submarginal  form? 

Assuming  that  such  shades  of  institutional  density  exist,  are  they 
static  and  permanent?  Or  did  hydraulic  civilizations  shift  from  the 
margin  to  the  submargin  and  vice  versa?  With  these  questions  in 
mind  we  shall  now  discuss  the  core  areas,  the  margin,  and  the  sub- 
marginal  zones  of  the  hydraulic  world. 


The  institutional  quality  of  a  hydraulic  area  varies  in  accordance 
with  its  spatial  cohesiveness  and  the  economic  and  political  weight  of 
its  hydraulic  system.  It  may  be  modified  further  by  the  relative 
significance  of  the  second  major  element  of  hydraulic  operation: 
flood  control. 

1.  How  Continuous  Is  the  Hydraulic  System  of  a 
Given  Hydraulic  Area? 

The  spatial  (and  organizational)  cohesiveness  of  a  given  hydraulic 
economy  is  primarily  determined  by  the  continuous  or  discontinuous 
form  of  its  water  supply.  A  hydraulic  commonwealth  is  apt  to  create 
a  single  more  or  less  continuous  system  of  irrigation  and  flood 
control  in  a  landscape  that  contains  only  one  major  accessible  source 
of  humidity.  Such  a  development  frequently  occurs  in  oasis-like 

CHAPTER    6,    B  163 

regions  crossed  by  a  river  that  gathers  the  bulk  of  its  water  in  a  more 
humid  hilly  or  mountainous  hinterland.  The  river-valley  states  of 
ancient  coastal  Peru  maintained  continuous  hydraulic  systems.  In 
the  Old  World,  Sindh  and  the  Nile  Valley  civilization  of  Egypt  are 
classical  variants  of  the  same  pattern. 

If  an  arid  landscape  includes  several  not  too  widely  separated 
rivers,  the  canals  leading  from  them  may  form  a  relatively  continuous 
hydraulic  network.  However,  few  arid  regions  are  so  privileged. 
Lower  Mesopotamia  is  more  the  exception  than  the  rule. 

In  most  cases  the  rivers  of  a  potentially  hydraulic  landscape  lie 
too  far  apart  to  permit  interlocking  through  connecting  canals.  Con- 
sequently a  hydraulic  commonwealth  covering  a  multi-river  area 
generally  maintains  a  discontinuous  system  of  embankments  and 
canals.  Individuals  depending  on  a  limited  and  single  water  supply 
may  reproduce  a  limited  tribal  or  national  culture  for  a  long  period 
of  time.  This  happened  in  the  Rio  Grande  area  and,  on  a  much  more 
impressive  scale,  in  Pharaonic  Egypt.  But  the  self-perpetuating  hy- 
draulic tribes  played  an  insignificant  part  on  the  stage  of  human 
history;  and  even  such  national  complexes  as  Egypt  eventually  out- 
grew their  early  political  isolation.  The  great  majority  of  all  his- 
torically conspicuous  hydraulic  nations  and  empires  include  regions 
which  depend  on  a  continuous  hydraulic  unit;  yet,  taken  as  a  whole, 
the  hydraulic  system  of  these  larger  political  units  have  a  definitely 
discontinuous  form. 

2.  How  Great  Is  the  Economic  and  Political 
Weight  of  a  Given  Hydraulic  Economy? 

Since  most  of  the  larger  hydraulic  civilizations  maintain  discon- 
tinuous hydraulic  systems,  lack  of  cohesiveness  obviously  is  no  reli- 
able index  for  establishing  hydraulic  density.  The  economic  and 
political  weights  of  a  discontinuous  hydraulic  system  must  be  estab- 
lished by  other  means. 

In  arid  areas  a  discontinuous  hydraulic  system  occurs  occasionally; 
in  semi-arid  areas  it  is  virtually  the  rule,  at  least  for  societies  that 
have  outgrown  their  most  primitive  beginnings.  As  indicated  above, 
the  semi-arid  areas  which  have  given  rise  to  hydraulic  developments 
are  numerous  and  large;  and  within  them  the  relation  between 
hydraulic  agriculture  and  nonhydraulic  (small-scale  irrigation  and 
rainfall)  farming  varies  enormously. 

Three  major  shades  of  this  relation  can  be  distinguished: 
1)  The  hydraulically  cultivated  land  may  comprise  more  than  half 
of  all  arable  land.  Since  hydraulic  agriculture  tends  to  produce 


yields  that,  by  and  large,  are  as  high  as  those  produced  by  small- 
scale  irrigation  and  definitely  higher  than  the  average  yields  of  the 
rainfall  farmers,  a  hydraulic  agriculture  which  covers  more  than  50 
per  cent  of  all  arable  land  may  be  said  to  be  in  a  position  of  absolute 
economic  superiority. 

This  condition  is  found  most  frequently  in  arid  regions;  and 
frequently,  although  not  necessarily,  it  is  found  together  with  a 
continuous  hydraulic  system.  In  most  Rio  Grande  Pueblos  the  bulk 
of  all  land  is  irrigated;  and  the  bulk  of  irrigation  water  is  drawn  from 
communally  operated  irrigation  ditches.  In  Egypt,  from  the  dawn  of 
history,  the  great  majority  of  all  fields  was  irrigated  either  by  inunda- 
tion or  through  canals.1  In  the  delta  a  meager  crop  can  be  grown 
by  methods  of  rainfall  farming;  °  and  throughout  the  country,  wells 
can  be  used  to  water  vegetables,  gardens,  and  orchards.2  But  as  in 
the  case  of  the  Rio  Grande  Pueblos,  these  supplementary  forms  of 
cultivation  do  not  challenge  the  overwhelming  economic  superiority 
of  the  hydraulic  economy. 

2)  The  hydraulically  cultivated  land,  even  when  it  comprises  less 
than  half  the  country's  arable  acreage,  may  nevertheless  yield  more 
than  all  other  arable  land.  In  this  case,  hydraulic  agriculture  may  be 
said  to  hold  a  position  of  relative  economic  superiority.  On  the  eve 
of  China's  unification  the  state  of  Ch'in  enormously  strengthened  its 
agrarian  heartlands  (in  present  Shensi)  by  constructing  the  Cheng 
Kuo  irrigation  works;  and  this  action  made  Ch'in  richer  and  more 
powerful  than  any  other  territorial  state.  In  the  subsequent  period, 
the  whole  area  of  what  had  been  Ch'in  h  comprised  about  one-third 
of  the  empire's  area,  but,  according  to  Pan  Ku,  it  accounted  for  60 
per  cent  of  its  wealth.8  Ssu-ma  Ch'ien  considered  the  former  Ch'in 
territory  "ten  times  as  rich  as  [the  rest  of]  the  empire."  *  Neither  of 
these  statements  can  be  verified,  and  they  certainly  should  not  be 
pressed.  Yet  they  illustrate  what  we  mean  by  the  relative  economic 
superiority  of  a  vigorous  hydraulic  system  of  agriculture. 

3)  The  hydraulically  cultivated  land,  even  if  it  is  inferior  both  in 
acreage  and  yield  to  the  remaining  arable  land,  may  nevertheless  be 
sufficient  to  stimulate  despotic  patterns  of  corvee  labor  and  govern- 
ment. In  this  case  the  larger,  nonhydraulic  area  essentially  produces 
food,  whereas  the  smaller,  hydraulic  area,  in  addition  to  producing 

a.  After  mentioning  the  cultivation  of  barley  in  the  Nile  delta  as  one  of  the  examples 
of  rainfall  agriculture  close  to  the  minimum  limit,  the  Agricultural  Yearbook  of  1941 
concludes:  "Production  year  after  year  with  these  small  amounts  of  moisture  is  possible 
only  where  the  distribution  of  rainfall  during  the  year  and  other  climatic  conditions 
are  favorable  and  where  the  moisture  falling  in  two  or  more  years  is  stored  for  one 
crop"  (CM:  322). 

b.  In  addition  to  the  Cheng  Kuo  complex,  this  included  among  other  regions  the 
classical  irrigation  plain  of  Szechwan. 

CHAPTER    6,    B  165 

food,  produces  power,  and  it  produces  power  that  is  sufficiently 
strong  and  sufficiently  despotic  to  control  both  sectors  of  the  agrarian 

This  evidently  happened  in  numerous  semi-arid  regions  that  were 
suitable — in  key  areas — for  hydraulic  operations.  During  the  forma- 
tive period  of  many  great  hydraulic  civilizations  despotic  power 
probably  arose  under  exactly  such  conditions;  and  the  pattern  has 
been  perpetuated  in  historic  times.  Assyria  and  Mexico  applied 
methods  of  mass  control  that  were  imperative  only  in  relatively  small 
hydraulic  regions  to  large  areas  of  small-scale  irrigation  and  rainfall 
farming.  Under  these  conditions  the  hydraulic  economy,  though  pre- 
dominant neither  in  acreage  nor  yield,  nevertheless  occupied  a  posi- 
tion of  organizational  and  political  superiority. 

3.  How  Strong  Is  the  Second  Major  Element  of 
Hydraulic  Operation:   Flood  Control? 

Where  the  hydraulic  system  prevails  economically,  the  relative 
strength  of  protective  (as  compared  with  productive)  water  works 
is  of  little  concern.  An  elaborate  hydraulic  agriculture  involves  an 
elaborate  bureaucratic  development;  and  the  despotic  regime  is  thus 
conveniently  bulwarked. 

Things  are  different  when  the  hydraulic  system,  although  suffi- 
cient to  establish  political  supremacy,  involves  only  modest  bureau- 
cratic developments.  To  be  sure,  the  maintenance  of  large  installa- 
tions for  flood  control  always  necessitates  comprehensive  operations 
of  mobilization  and  on-the-spot  direction;  and  it  also  heightens  the 
quasimilitary  authority  of  the  managerial  government  in  situations  of 
absolute  or  relative  economic  hegemony.  But  the  protective  factor 
becomes  particularly  important  when  economic  hegemony  is  lack- 
ing. The  fight  against  large  and  disastrous  floods  tends  to  expand 
government-directed  mass  mobilization  further  than  would  produc- 
tive hydraulic  action  alone.  And  the  disciplinary  measures  involved 
in  protective  enterprises  do  much  to  cement  the  power  of  a  govern- 
ment that  derives  only  a  limited  managerial  authority  from  its 
agromanagerial  achievements.  In  the  lake  area  of  ancient  Mexico 
the  struggle  against  periodic  and  devastating  floods  probably  re 
quired  much  larger  corvee  teams  than  did  the  regional  irrigation 
works.  The  significance  of  this  fact  for  the  aggrandizement  of  govern- 
ment power  can  be  easily  imagined. 

4.  Compact  and  Loose  Hydraulic  Societies 

Our  argument  does  not  exhaust  all  morphological  possibilities.  But 
it  establishes  one  point  beyond  doubt:  The  core  areas  of  the  hydrau- 


lie  world  manifest  at  least  two  major  types  of  hydraulic  density. 
Some  are  hydraulically  compact,  whereas  others  are  hydraulically 
loose.5  A  hydraulic  society  may  be  considered  "compact"  when  its 
hydraulic  agriculture  occupies  a  position  of  absolute  or  relative 
economic  hegemony.  It  may  be  considered  "loose"  when  its  hydraulic 
agriculture,  while  lacking  economic  superiority,  is  sufficient  to  assure 
its  leaders  absolute  organizational  and  political  hegemony. 

This  primary  division  may  be  supplemented  by  some  important 
secondary  divisions.  A  hydraulic  society,  whose  hydraulic  agriculture 
is  economically  dominant  and  spatially  continuous,  is  an  extreme 
variant  of  the  compact  pattern  (C  i).  A  hydraulic  society  whose 
hydraulic  agriculture  is  economically  dominant  but  discontinuous  is 
a  less  extreme  variant  of  this  same  pattern  (C  2).  Distinction  between 
absolute  (a)  and  relative  (r)  economic  hegemony  enables  us  to  carry 
the  differentiation  still  further  (Ca  1  and  Cr  1,  Ca  2  and  Cr  2). 

A  loose  hydraulic  society  may  include  among  its  installations  large 
units  which  are  compact  within  their  immediate  locale  or  which  go 
beyond  the  borders  of  a  single  region.  The  relatively  great  hydraulic 
weight  of  this  pattern  may  be  indicated  by  the  symbol  "L  1."  A 
loose  hydraulic  society  whose  largest  hydraulic  units  fail  to  achieve 
economic  hegemony  even  regionally  represents  the  lowest  hydraulic 
density  type  (L  2).  Another  differentiating  factor,  the  relatively 
strong  development  of  protective  hydraulic  works,  may  be  indicated 
whenever  this  seems  desirable  by  the  formula  "-f-  prot." 

A  few  examples  indicate,  on  a  tribal  or  national  scale,  the  four 
main  categories  of  hydraulic  density: 

Compact  1:  Most  Rio  Grande  Pueblos,  the  small  city  states  of 
ancient  coastal  Peru,  Pharaonic  Egypt. 

Compact  2:  The  city  states  of  ancient  Lower  Mesopotamia,  prob- 
ably the  state  of  Ch'in  on  the  eve  of  the  Chinese  empire 

Loose  1:  The  Chagga  tribes,  ancient  Assyria,  the  old  Chinese  state 
of  Ch'i  (L  1  +  prot.),  and  perhaps  Ch'u. 

Loose  2:  Tribal  civilizations:  The  Suk  of  East  Africa,  the  Zuni  of 
New  Mexico.  State  centered  civilizations:  indigenous  Hawaii, 
many  territorial  states  of  ancient  Mexico  (L  2  +  prot.). 

5.  The  Great  Agromanagerial  Empires — Usually 
Loose  Hydraulic  Societies 

Dominion  of  one  city  state  over  a  number  of  other  city  states  leads 
to  the  establishment  of  rudimentary  empires.  Conformations  of  this 
kind  arose  in  ancient  Lower  Mesopotamia,  on  the  coast  of  ancient 
Peru,  in  Chou  China,  and  in  Buddhist  India. 

CHAPTER    6,    B  167 

In  the  first  two  cases  the  components  were  of  the  compact  hydrau- 
lic type;  and  the  quasi-imperial  units  were  also  hydraulically  com- 
pact. Usually,  however,  military  and  political  expansion  resulted  in 
the  creation  of  larger  and  less  homogeneous  conformations.  The 
great  hydraulic  empires  tended  to  include  territorial  and  national 
units  of  different  hydraulic  densities.  They  formed  loose  hydraulic 
societies,  which  frequently  included  compact  hydraulic  subareas. 
The  Babylonian  and  Assyrian  empires,  China  during  the  periods  of 
unification,  the  great  empires  of  India,  Achaemenian  Persia  at  the 
height  of  its  expansion,  the  Arab  caliphate,  Ottoman  Turkey,  the 
Inca  empire,  and  the  federation  of  Aztec  Mexico — all  were  hydrau- 
lic societies,  and  all,  perhaps  with  the  exception  of  Mexico,  belonged 
to  the  category  L  1 . 

The  hydraulic  glands  of  the  great  agromanagerial  empires  have 
been  accorded  little  systematic  attention.  A  morphological  study  of 
the  hydraulic  order  of  traditional  China  reveals  many  density  patterns 
and  significant  super-regional  arrangements.0  Mez'  thoughtful  anal- 
ysis of  Abbassid  power  indicates  the  number  and  variety  of  the 
great  hydraulic  areas  that  for  shorter  or  longer  periods  lay  within 
the  jurisdiction  of  the  Baghdad  caliphate:  Egypt,  South  Arabia, 
Babylonia,  Persia  (northeast  and  south  Transoxania  and  Afghani- 
stan).6 All  these  areas  posed  "great  irrigation  problems,"  7  and  the 
Arab  sources  note  both  the  technological  means  and  the  numerous 
personnel  required  to  solve  them.8 

6.  Degrees  of  Hydraulic  Density  and  Degrees  of 
Bureaucratic  Density 

a.  The  Principle 

The  bureaucratic  density  of  an  agromanagerial  society  varies  with 
its  hydraulic  density.  This  correlation  is  affected  by  such  factors  as 
the  institutional  weight  of  large  nonhydraulic  constructions  (the 
Zuni  Pueblos,  the  territorial  states  of  Chou  China,  the  Roman  em- 
pire) and  the  dimensions  of  communicational  and/or  military  or- 
ganizations (Assyria,  the  state  of  Ch'in,  Aztec  Mexico).  But  such 
factors  modify  rather  than  negate  the  basic  hydraulic-bureaucratic 
relation.  Pharaonic  Egypt  was  highly  bureaucratized  long  before  it 
developed  a  comprehensive  military  officialdom.  And  while  both  the 
Incas  and  the  Aztecs  maintained  strong  military  organizations,  there 

c.  For  a  discussion  of  the  varying  territorial  dimensions  and  character,  as  well  as 
the  interarea  relations,  in  the  "loose"  hydraulic  order  of  traditional  China,  see 
Wittfogel,  1931:  252-72. 


can  be  little  doubt  that  the  former  had  a  more  comprehensive 
managerial  bureaucracy  than  the  latter. 

On  the  acquisitive  level  correlations  also  vary.  To  be  sure,  an 
agrarian  despotism,  no  matter  what  its  hydraulic  density  pattern, 
insists  upon  its  right  to  tax  universally.  Yet  the  way  in  which  this 
right  is  exercised  differs  significantly.  Although  a  loose  hydraulic 
society  with  a  strong  government  may  be  able  to  gather  in  a  larger 
percentage  of  the  estimated  revenue  than  a  compact  hydraulic  society 
with  a  weak  government,  other  conditions  being  equal,  the  more 
comprehensive  bureaucracy  of  an  intensively  managerial  state  is 
better  equipped  over  time  to  handle  the  business  of  taxation  than  is 
the  less  comprehensive  bureaucracy  of  a  less  intensively  managerial 

The  collecting  of  the  rural  surplus  was  more  centralized  in  Inca 
Peru  than  in  Aztec  Mexico,  where  local  affairs  were  handled  not  by 
representatives  of  the  government  but  by  heads  of  the  local  calpulli. 
In  the  compact  hydraulic  societies  of  the  ancient  Near  East  the  bulk 
of  the  revenue  seems  to  have  been  gathered  by  government  func- 
tionaries, although  intermediaries  are  known  to  have  been  used  in 
certain  periods  in  Pharaonic  Egypt.9  Under  Greek  and  Roman  in- 
fluence respectively,  tax  farming  appeared  in  the  Hellenistic  and 
Roman  Near  East; 10  but  the  absolutist  regimes  soon  asserted  their 
power,  first  by  modifying  the  system  of  tax  farming  and  later  by 
reducing  it  to  insignificance.11  State-appointed  (liturgical)  tax  col- 
lectors, mostly  wealthy  townsmen,  supplemented  the  fiscal  bureauc- 
racy; and  big  (bureaucratic)  landowners  fulfilled  a  similar  function 
with  more  advantage  as  well  as  less  danger  to  themselves.12  Thus 
the  hydraulically  loose  Roman  empire  discarded  the  independent 
tax  farmers  of  ancient  Greece  and  republican  Rome  without  revert- 
ing to  the  old  Egyptian  and  Babylonian  ways  of  directly  and  bureau- 
cratically  collecting  the  revenue. 

This  step  was  taken  by  the  Arab  masters  of  the  Near  East,  whose 
power  was  rooted  in  such  hydraulic  centers  as  Damascus,  Cairo,  and 
Baghdad.  Under  the  Umayyads  the  bureaucratic  fiscal  system  pre- 
vailed; and  the  tax  farmers,  whom  the  Abbassid  government  began 
to  employ,  were  still  closely  integrated  in  the  bureaucratic  order.  In 
Mesopotamia  they  were  part  of  the  officialdom.13  In  China  some  local 
tax  collectors  were  not  members  of  the  regular  officialdom; 14  but 
bureaucratic  methods  of  tax  collection  seem  to  have  prevailed 
throughout  the  ages. 

CHAPTER    6,    B  169 

b.  Changing  Bureaucratic  Density  of  a  Hydraulic  Territory 

The  inclusion  of  incipiently  hydraulic  or  nonhydraulic  territories 
in  a  loose  hydraulic  society  is  usually  followed  by  the  development 
of  a  bureaucratic  network  in  these  territories.  This  is  what  happened 
when  the  ancient  centers  of  Chinese  culture  conquered  certain  "bar- 
barian" regions  in  Central  and  South  China. 

The  inclusion  of  a  compact  hydraulic  territory  in  a  hydraulically 
loose  empire  tends  to  have  the  opposite  effect.  The  rulers,  who  are 
accustomed  to  operate  with  a  less  compact  officialdom,  may  also 
reduce  the  bureaucratic  apparatus  of  the  hydraulically  compact 
area.  This  is  what  happened  when  the  Nile  Valley  became  part  of 
the  Roman  empire. 

7.  Hydraulically  Concerned  and  Hydraulically 
Unconcerned  Masters  of  Hydraulic  Society 

A  second  factor  that  may  change  the  bureaucratic  density  of  a 
hydraulic  society  is  the  rulers'  concern  (or  lack  of  concern)  for  hy- 
draulic management.  As  discussed  previously,  a  hydraulic  society  may 
sink  to  a  low  rationality  level  if  it  is  ruled  by  conquerors  who  take 
little  interest  in  managerial  agriculture  or  if  its  indigenous  masters 
slacken  their  productive  efforts.  The  conquerors'  lack  of  hydraulic 
concern  is  usually  a  consequence  of  their  nonhydraulic  background. 
Internal  decay  may  be  due  to  a  reduction  in  government  revenue 
resulting  from  the  excessive  growth  of  proprietary  forces  or  from  the 
degeneration  of  a  ruling  group  that  reveled  in  the  luxury  of  total 

The  spatial  relation  between  the  main  areas  of  political  power 
and  hydraulic  economy  also  plays  a  part.  Rulers  may  establish  their 
capital  close  to  the  major  regions  of  agricultural  wealth  and  sur- 
plus; or  they  may  establish  it  at  a  considerable  distance  from  these 
regions.  Defense  is  often  given  as  the  reason  for  the  latter  decision, 
and  at  times  it  may  indeed  be  the  whole  reason.  Often,  however,  the 
rulers — particularly  conqueror-rulers — preferred  to  set  up  their  capi- 
tals in  a  nonhydraulic  frontier,  because  they  had  a  stronger  affinity 
to  the  periphery  than  to  the  core  areas  of  the  hydraulic  world. 

In  China  the  centers  of  political  direction  and  hydraulic  economy 
coincided  more  or  less  until  the  first  millennium  a.d.,  when  the 
growing  fertility  of  the  Yangtze  area  conflicted  with  the  defense 
needs  of  the  vital  northern  border  zone.  From  then  on,  the  seat  of 
the  central  government  shifted  back  and  forth;  but  the  northern 
region  never  ceased  to  be  hydraulic  to  some  extent,  and  the  northern 


capitals  were  ingeniously  and  hydraulically  connected  with  the  main 
rice  areas  of  Central  China  through  the  Grand  Canal. 

In  India  the  great  northern  plain,  which  was  the  main  area  of 
hydraulic  agriculture,  was  also  the  logical  place  for  the  political 
metropolis;  and  the  Muslim  masters  of  India,  like  their  Hindu 
predecessors,  established  their  capitals  there.  But  they  exhibited  less 
hydraulic  concern  than  had  the  previous  indigenous  rulers.  Although 
they  were  not  lacking  in  managerial  interest,  and  although  they 
created  and  maintained  large  irrigation  works,  they  never  fully 
restored  the  grandiose  hydraulic  economy  that  appears  to  have 
flourished  in  the  Maurya  empire.  The  role  they  assigned  to  local 
"chiefs"  and  tax  farmers  reflects  the  relatively  low  bureaucratic 
density  of  Muslim  India. 

The  later  Roman  emperors  responded  to  the  lure  of  the  East. 
Yet  they  established  their  new  capital,  not  in  one  of  the  great  classical 
areas  of  hydraulic  agriculture  (Egypt,  Syria,  or  Mesopotamia)  but  at 
the  Hellespont,  the  classical  divide  between  the  Orient  and  the  non- 
hydraulic  West.  And  despite  the  fact  that  long  acquaintance  with 
managerial  despotism  stimulated  them  to  plan  and  build  on  a  large 
scale,  they  were  content  to  administer  their  hydraulic  possessions 
from  afar.  Immensely  bold  in  the  creation  of  nonhydraulic  con- 
structions (highways  and  frontier  walls),  they  exhibited  much  less 
initiative  in  the  agromanagerial  sphere.  While  by  no  means  lacking 
in  hydraulic  concern,  they  aimed  at  gathering  as  large  a  rural 
revenue  as  possible  with  as  small  a  bureaucracy  as  possible.  Rational 
rulers  though  they  were,  they  did  not  realize  the  rationality  maxi- 
mum of  the  hydraulic  world  they  controlled. 

The  Romans,  who  made  Constantinople  the  capital  of  their  em- 
pire, had  behind  them  five  hundred  years  of  practical  experience 
with  the  Hellenistic  version  of  hydraulic  statecraft.  The  Turks,  who 
had  conquered  Adrianople  in  1361,  Constantinople  in  1453,  Egypt 
in  1517,  and  Mesopotamia  in  1534,  were  not  unacquainted  with 
higher  agrarian  civilizations  of  the  hydraulic  type  either;  as  a 
matter  of  fact,  they  had  lived  at  the  edge  of  the  hydraulic  world  since 
the  dawn  of  history.  But  perhaps  because  of  their  pastoral  back- 
ground they  were  less  interested  in  the  promotion  of  agriculture  18 
than  in  military  enterprises;  and  they  preferred  extending  the  non- 
hydraulic  margin  to  intensifying  the  hydraulic  core.  True,  the  great 
irrigation  works  of  Mesopotamia  lay  in  ruins  when  the  Turks  came; 
but  the  history  of  China  and  India  shows  that  hydraulic  effort  can 
restore  quickly  what  antihydraulic  action  has  destroyed.  The  Turks 
did  not  break  with  agromanagerial  tradition  in  Egypt  or  Syria;  but 
they  furthered  no  significant  reconstruction  work  in  Iraq.  Speaking 

CHAPTER    6,    B  171 

generally,  they  displayed  no  effective  zest  for  hydraulic  develop- 
ment.16 As  Orientally  despotic  organizers  of  war,  peace,  and  fiscal 
exploitation,  they  were  extraordinarily  successful;  and  in  some  few 
major  administrative  centers  they  employed  many  officials.  Being 
managerially  unconcerned,  however,  they  governed  their  far-flung 
empire  with  a  relatively  small  professional  bureaucracy. 

8.  Periods  of  Agromanagerial  Adjustment, 
Degeneration,  and  Restoration 

Of  course,  the  economic  ethos  (the  Wirtschaftsgesinnung)  of  a 
ruling  group  is  not  unchangeable.  Great  differences  in  cultural  and 
social  assimilation  notwithstanding,  this  is  true  also  for  pastoral 

The  tribal  conquerors  of  China  were  usually  willing  to  uphold 
the  indigenous  tradition  in  certain  spheres  of  nonhydraulic  con- 
struction and  management;  and  many  of  them  became  at  least  super- 
ficially aware  of  the  importance  of  irrigation  agriculture.  Perhaps 
none  of  the  northern  conquerors  equaled  the  active  hydraulic  con- 
cern of  the  Manchus,  who  had  practiced  irrigation  in  their  homeland 
prior  to  their  conquest  of  China.17  In  the  Near  East  the  Umayyads, 
who  consolidated  a  conquest  regime  established  by  the  first  followers 
of  the  Prophet,  also  showed  extraordinary  hydraulic  concern.18 

Pastoral  and  semipastoral  conquerors  who  develop  an  interest  in 
hydraulic  matters  do  so,  as  a  rule,  not  during  the  first  period  of  their 
dominion  but  later;  and  often  they  grow  managerially  lazy  and 
negligent  before  their  rationality  potential  has  been  exhausted.  In- 
digenous rulers,  on  the  other  hand,  frequently  show  the  greatest 
hydraulic  concern  during  the  earlier  periods  of  their  regime,  tending 
to  grow  managerially  less  insistent  when  their  power  is  consolidated. 
In  either  case,  decay  may  be  retarded  by  challenging  external  cir- 
cumstances; or  it  may  be  accelerated  by  the  expansion  of  large 
proprietary  forces,  whose  representatives  arrogate  to  themselves  an 
increasing  part  of  the  national  surplus.1*  When  one  segment  of  the 
despotic  elite  (primarily  the  court  and  clusters  of  officials  close 
to  it)  succumbs  to  the  corrupting  influence  of  total  power,  another 
segment  (other  members  of  the  officialdom  and  their  relatives  and 
friends  among  the  bureaucratic  "gentry")  may  seize  power.  As  the 
result  of  this  process,  excessively  irrational  features  may  be  eliminated 
in  a  "cathartic"  and  "regenerative"  revolution. 

d.  For  an  attempt  to  explain  the  great  agrarian  and  political  crises  in  Chinese 
society  by  means  of  this  and  other  social  factors  see  Wittfogel,  1927:  322  ft.,  328  ff.; 
ibid.,  1935:  53.  Cf.  Wittfogel  and  Feng,  1949:  377.  For  an  analysis  of  agrarian  crises 
as  a  general  feature  of  Oriental  society  see  Wittfogel,  1938:  109  ff. 


A  development  of  this  type  does  not  change  the  traditional  hy- 
draulic and  despotic  order;  it  merely  restores  its  vitality.  The  first 
rulers  of  many  Egyptian,  Babylonian,  Chinese,  Indian,  Persian, 
Islamic,  and  Mexican  dynasties  have  been  praised  for  their  vigor 
and  efficiency.  Regenerative  upsurges  may  also  occur  during  a  later 
phase  of  a  dynastic  reign;  and  then,  as  during  the  formative  period, 
serious  attempts  may  be  made  at  effective  hydraulic  management 
and  rational  fiscal  administration.  In  both  cases  the  more  far- 
sighted  and  less  compromised  elements  within  the  ruling  bureauc- 
racy demonstrate  that  they  can  run  the  country  in  a  more  effective 
way  than  their  self-indulgent  and  "corrupt"  rivals. 

9.  The  Staying  Power  of  Deteriorated  Agro- 
managerial  hydraulic  societies 

The  dominant  myths  of  Oriental  despotism  ascribe  regenerative 
achievements  to  almost  every  founder  of  a  new  dynasty;  but  an  un- 
biased evaluation  of  the  evidence  leads  to  less  flattering  conclusions. 
Under  conditions  that  permit  no  independent  criticism  or  political 
pressure,  the  immediate  benefits  of  total  power  have  a  much  greater 
appeal  to  the  masters  of  the  absolutist  apparatus  than  do  the 
potential  fruits  of  rational— albeit,  selfishly  rational — managerial 
effort.  Self-indulgence  is,  therefore,  a  more  typical  motive  for  be- 
havior than  the  desire  to  maintain  the  rulers'  rationality  optimum. 

And  this  is  true  not  only  for  most  later  sovereigns  but  also  for 
many  a  dynasty's  founding  father.  Such  persons,  however  vigorous, 
are  often  more  sensitive  to  the  political  weaknesses  of  the  old  regime 
than  to  the  managerial  possibilities  of  the  new.  Having  won  over  the 
bulk  of  the  military  and  civil  officials,  they  readily  correct  the  most 
glaring  abuses  in  taxation,  forced  labor,  or  jurisdiction,  and  they 
make  the  most  urgent  constructional  and  agromanagerial  improve- 
ments; but  they  have  neither  the  vision  nor  the  personnel  to  raise 
the  hydraulic  government  to  a  conspicuously  higher  level  of  hydrau- 
lic and  fiscal  management.  In  the  many  dynastic  changes  that  charac- 
terize the  history  of  agromanagerial  civilizations,  thorough  re- 
generative upsurges  are  probably  more  the  exception  than  the  rule. 

Of  course,  a  stoppage  of  all  hydraulic  operations  would  paralyze 
agricultural  life,  and  this  not  only  in  areas  of  full  aridity  but  in 
many  semi-arid  regions  as  well.  Consequently,  even  a  hydraulically 
unconcerned  Oriental  government  will  devote  some  effort  to  its 
managerial  duties.  It  has  to  carry  on  somehow,  even  if  it  must  depend 
largely  and  not  too  rationally  on  local  groups.  During  the  last  phase 
of  Byzantine  rule  over  Egypt,  influential  landlords,  most  of  whom 

CHAPTER    6,    C  173 

had  bureaucratic  connections,19  are  said  to  have  maintained  the 
dikes  and  canals  in  many  localities.20  To  what  extent  governmental 
hydraulic  action  was  reduced  by  this  arrangement  is  hard  to  decide. 
Even  during  this  critical  period,  however,  Egypt's  irrigation  economy 
was  sufficiently  continuous  and  sufficiently  effective  to  feed  the  people 
and  to  furnish  a  huge  revenue.  Somehow  it  succeeded  in  perpetuating 
itself.  When  the  Arabs  appeared  in  639,  they  found  in  the  Nile 
Valley  a  population  of  about  seven  millions,6  that  is,  about  as  many 
persons  as  had  lived  there  under  Ptolemaic  rule. 


In  arid  or  semi-arid  landscapes  sedentary  agrarian  civilizations  can 
persist  permanently  and  prosperously  only  on  the  basis  of  a  hydraulic 
economy.  Along  the  moderately  humid  periphery  of  the  arid  and 
semi-arid  world  agrarian  life  is  not  so  conditioned.  Here  Oriental 
despotism  may  prevail  with  little  or  no  dependence  upon  hydraulic 

1.  Varying  Operational  and  Bureaucratic  Density 
Patterns  in  Marginal  Areas  of  the  Hydraulic 

In  the  hydraulic  core  areas  degrees  of  hydraulic  density  provide  a 
crucial  means  for  distinguishing  degrees  of  institutional  density.  In 
the  margins,  however,  this  criterion  loses  its  significance.  Instead, 
degrees  of  bureaucratic  density  are  best  determined  by  an  approach 
that  evaluates  the  relative  development  of  absolutist  methods  in  the 
spheres  of  construction  (mostly  nonhydraulic),  organization,  and 

Comparison  between  the  states  of  Middle  Byzantium  and  post- 
Mongol  Russia  reveal  significant  differences.  Byzantium  maintained 
considerable  hydraulic  installations,  in  the  main  for  providing  drink- 
ing water;  *  and  these  have  no  parallel  in  Muscovite  Russia.  Nor 
did  the  Muscovite  Russians  engage  in  comprehensive  nonhydraulic 
constructions  as  did  the  Byzantines.  The  founders  of  Eastern  Rome 
reshaped  the  earlier  network  of  roads; *  and  their  highways  were 
the  foundation  of  the  Byzantine  system  of  communications,2  which 
in  a  limited  way  continued  in  use  even  under  the  Turks.3 

e.  For  the  beginning  of  the  Arab  era  see  Johnson  and  West,  1949:  263  (6,000,000, 
plus  children  and  old  people);  cf.  Munier,  1932:  84.  For  Ptolemaic  Egypt  see 
Diodorus,  I,  sec.  31  (7,000,000);  cf.  Josephus,  JW  2.16  (7,500,000);  Wilcken,  1899,  I:  489  ff. 

a.  Br^hier,  1950:  90  ff.  For  a  description  of  some  of  these  works  see  Ritter,  1858: 
155,  160,  167,  202,  346,  378,  406,  496,  547.  Most  of  the  local  and  regional  hydraulic 
works  that  existed  under  the  Turks  probably  go  back  to  the  Byzantines. 


The  Byzantines  also  made  enormous  building  efforts  for  purposes 
of  defense.  They  protected  their  borders  by  a  great  chain  of  fortifica- 
tions; and  here,  as  in  the  sphere  of  communications,  corvee  labor 
was  mobilized  for  the  task.*  After  the  victory  of  the  Seljuq  Turks 
at  Manzikert  (in  1071),  the  absolutist  state  still  functioned;  and  the 
road  corvee  was  still  levied  in  the  12th  century; 5  but  the  vigor  of  the 
early  days  was  gone.  The  great  military  road,  which  in  the  preceding 
years  had  had  its  periods  of  decay  and  reconstruction,  appears  to 
have  been  properly  maintained  only  "until  the  eleventh  century."  6 

When  the  Mongols  established  their  rule  over  Russia,  they  did 
not  construct  massive  roads,  nor  did  they  erect  frontier  walls  or 
chains  of  border  fortresses.  They  were  satisfied  to  establish  organiza- 
tional and  acquisitive  methods  of  total  control.  It  is  in  these  two 
last  fields  of  action  that  Byzantium  and  absolutist  Russia,  although 
not  identical,  were  similar. 

The  Byzantines  kept  account  of  their  country's  wealth  in  elaborate 
cadasters.7  They  monopolized  quick  communication  and  intelligence 
by  means  of  the  state  post.8  They  closely  controlled  the  major  sectors 
of  handicraft  and  commerce,  again  until  the  1 1  th  century.9  And  they 
maintained  armies  whose  orderly  integration  contrasted  strikingly 
with  the  amorphous  hosts  of  feudal  Europe.10 

All  these  features  have  parallels  in  Muscovite  Russia.  The  mature 
Muscovite  state  registered  the  mass  of  its  population  for  fiscal  and 
military  purposes;  "  it  operated  an  elaborate  "postal"  (relay)  sys- 
tem; 12  it  occupied  a  key  position  in  the  country's  trade; 13  and  it 
despotically  drafted  and  directed  its  fighting  men." 

During  the  earlier  periods  of  both  absolutist  regimes  office  land 
was  assigned  to  persons  serving  the  state.  In  Byzantium  this  system 
emerged  on  the  eve  of  the  Arab  conquest  in  a  time  of  turmoil  and 
invasion  and  as  a  means  of  strengthening  defense  against  the  Persian 
attack.  Rooted  in  earlier  Roman  institutions  14  and  set  in  its  classi- 
cal form  by  Heraclius  I  (610-641),  it  continued  patterns  that  had 
existed  in  the  ancient  Orient  from  the  days  of  Sumer  and  Babylon 
and  that  prevailed  also  in  contemporary  Persia.18  Under  the  system 
of  themes,  each  Byzantine  soldier  received  a  farm  which,  like  his 
service,  was  hereditary  and  indivisible.16 

This  plebeian  version  of  an  absolutist  office  land  system  lasted 
until  the  1 1  th  century.  Then,  after  the  catastrophic  defeat  at  Manzi- 

b.  For  the  principle  see  Herberstein,  NR,  I:  95  ff.;  for  its  full  development,  Staden, 
1930:  58;  cf.  Kluchevsky,  HR,  II:  48,  in,  115.  As  will  be  shown  below,  all  these  in- 
stitutions existed  before  Ivan  III  (1462-1505),  during  whose  reign  the  Tatar  Yoke 

CHAPTER    6,    C  l^tj 

kert,  the  state  placed  at  the -center  of  its  reorganized  military  (and 
office  land)  system  the  big  landowners,  who,  with  the  development 
of  a  heavy  cavalry,  were  more  useful  militarily  than  the  themes 

Hand  in  hand  with  this  transformation  went  the  transformation  of 
the  acquisitive  order.  From  the  7th  to  the  1 1  th  century  the  govern- 
ment collected  the  bulk  of  its  revenue  through  its  officials.  The 
themes  soldiers,  who  lived  essentially  off  their  service  land,  presented 
no  major  fiscal  problem.'*  The  holders  of  the  pronoia,  the  larger  land 
units  that  constituted  the  core  of  the  later  office  land  system,  pro- 
vided a  certain  number  of  heavily  armed  soldiers  and  collected  taxes 
from  the  peasants  of  the  pronoia.17  Together  with  the  newly  estab- 
lished tax  farmers,18  the  pronoetes  formed  a  group  of  semi-official 
tax  collectors,  who  were  less  directly  controlled  by  the  state  than 
were  the  members  of  the  regular  fiscal  bureaucracy. 

The  corresponding  Russian  development  has  certain  distinct 
features.  The  Muscovite  holders  of  office  land,  the  pomeshchiki,  in- 
sofar as  they  rendered  military  service,  were  from  the  beginning  and 
in  the  main  heavily  armed  horsemen,  and  because  of  the  greater 
burden  of  their  equipment  they  were  usually  assigned  estates  larger 
than  a  peasant  farmstead.  Within  their  pomestye  they  collected  taxes 
from  their  peasants.  Consequently  their  government,  like  the  govern- 
ment of  later  Byzantium,  gathered  only  a  part  of  its  revenue  through 
professional  fiscal  officials. 

Both  regimes  employed  despotic  methods  of  government  in  the 
organizational  and  acquisitive  fields.  In  the  constructional  field  such 
methods  were  used  to  a  major  degree  only  by  Byzantium,  and  there 
essentially  during  the  middle  period  (until  the  11th  century).  The 
shrinking  range  of  constructional  operations  in  post-Manzikert 
Byzantium  was  interestingly  paralleled  by  the  shrinking  range  of  its 
fiscal  bureaucracy.  In  Muscovite  Russia  constructional  activities 
were  irrelevant  from  the  start;  and  the  fiscal  system  was,  also  from 
the  start,  characterized  by  a  large  nonbureaucratic  sector. 

Thus  a  positive  correlation  between  operational  and  bureaucratic 
density  can  be  formulated  for  the  margin  as  well  as  for  the  core 
areas  of  hydraulic  society.  This  correlation  may  be  influenced  by 
other  factors,  and  strongly  so.  But  experience  bears  out  what  the- 
oretical considerations  suggest:  Other  conditions  being  equal,  the 

c.  Cf.  Ostrogorsky,  1940:  262.  Ostrogorsky  describes  the  military  difference  between 
the  two  groups,  which  I  correlate  here  with  the  two  types  of  office  land. 

d.  Ostrogorsky,  1940:  58.  According  to  the  Tactica  Leonis  20.71,  they  seem  to  have 
paid  some  minor  imposts  (ibid.:  48). 


density  of  the  despotic  bureaucracy  tends  to  increase  or  decrease 
with  the  increase  or  decrease  of  its  functions. 

2,   The  Growth  of  Proprietary  Forces 

In  Byzantium  and  pOst-Mongol  Russia  the  state  controlled  the  bulk 
of  the  land  either  fiscally  or  administratively,  a  large  part  of  it  being 
assigned  as  office  land  to  the  soldiers  of  the  themes,  the  pronoetes, 
or  to  the  pomeshchiki.  Socially  and  economically,  the  pronoia  holders 
were  more  powerful  than  the  plebian  peasant  warriors  of  the  themes; 
but  they  bore  a  closer  resemblance  to  the  Russian  pomeshchiki  than 
to  the  feudal  lords  of  Western  Europe.  Both  the  pronoetes  and 
pomeshchiki  delivered  part  of  their  rural  revenue  to  the  state.  Both 
owed  absolute  obedience  to  their  respective  governments.  And  both 
lacked  the  decisive  capacity  of  feudal  and  postfeudal  landlordism — 
the  capacity  to  organize  independent  nationwide  political  corpora- 
tions (estates,  stdnde). 

However,  these  conditions  did  not  prevail  unaltered.  They  existed 
in  Late  Byzantium  up  to  1204,  the  year  in  which  the  completely 
defeated  empire  was  replaced  by  the  Latin  Empire;  and  they  under- 
went a  great  change  in  the  final  period  of  Byzantium,  which  ended 
in  1453.  In  Russia  they  existed  up  to  1762,  the  year  in  which  the 
former  pomestye  land  became  the  private  property  of  its  holders. 

In  later  Byzantium  and  in  post-Muscovite  Russia  private  property 
and  enterprise  gained  considerable  strength.  In  view  of  this  fact 
we  may  ask  first,  is  such  a  development  typical  of  agrarian  des- 
potisms and  second,  to  what  degree  was  the  growth  of  proprietary 
forces  responsible  for  the  societal  changes  that  occurred  in  Byzantium 
from  1261  to  1453  and  in  Russia  from  1861  to  1917? 

In  Byzantium  big  landownership  was  an  important  factor  even 
before  1071;  but  its  significance  increased  greatly  when,  at  the  end 
of  the  11th  and  at  the  beginning  of  the  12th  century,  the  landlord- 
pronoetes  were  given  additional  economic  and  judicial  power.  After 
the  fall  of  the  Latin  Empire,  the  pronoetes,  who  formerly  had  held 
their  grants  for  a  limited  time  only,  achieved  the  "hereditary  and 
unrestricted  ownership"  of  their  lands.  And  they  also  obtained  tax 
exemptions  far  greater  than  anything  that  had  been  customary.19  The 
corresponding  shrinkage  in  the  government  revenue  was  a  decisive 
factor  in  the  weakening  of  the  Byzantine  empire,  which  eventually 
was  unable  to  resist  the  Turks. 

In  Tsarist  Russia  events  took  a  different  course.  Here  industrializa- 
tion made  substantial  advances  in  the  18th  and  particularly  in  the 
19th  century;  and  this  development  was  closely  related  to  the  growth 

CHAPTER    6,    C  I77 

of  private  property,  first  immobile  (land)  and  ultimately  also  mobile 

3.  The  Institutional  Staying  Power  of  Marginal 
Oriental  Despotism 

But  the  growth  of  proprietary  forces  did  not  bring  about  a  trans- 
formation in  Byzantine  society  like  that  achieved  in  Western  Europe. 
Nor  did  it,  prior  to  1917,  enable  the  Russian  men  of  property  to  pre- 
vail over  the  men  of  the  state  apparatus.  Why  not?  Were  the  bene- 
ficiaries of  total  power  fully  aware  of  the  issue  involved?  And  did 
they  aim  at  isolating  and  crippling  the  representatives  of  property? 

It  is  easy  to  juxtapose  neatly  separated  camps.  The  real  conditions, 
however,  were  much  more  complicated.  In  Byzantium,  in  Tsarist 
Russia,  and  in  most  other  Orientally  despotic  countries  the  men  of 
the  apparatus  were  frequently  also  men  of  property.  Consequently 
the  conflict  between  the  interests  of  the  absolutist  regime  and  the 
interests  of  private  property  and  enterprise  appear  also — and  often 
primarily — as  a  conflict  between  different  members  of  the  same  rul- 
ing class  or  even  as  a  conflict  between  different  interests  of  individual 
members  of  this  class.  Why  do  such  persons — as  a  group  and  over 
time — place  their  bureaucratic  above  their  proprietary  interests? 

a.  Bureaucratic  Interests  Favoring  the  Reproduction  of  the 
Despotic  Order 

The  civil  or  military  official  of  an  agrarian  despotism  is  part  of  a 
bureaucratic  hierarchy,  which,  taken  in  its  entirety,  enjoys  more 
power,  revenue,  and  prestige  than  any  other  group  in  the  society. 
Of  course,  the  post  he  holds  today  and  the  one  he  hopes  to  hold 
tomorrow  carry  with  them  the  risk  of  total  destruction;  and  he  is 
therefore  never  safe.  However,  under  the  shadow  of  total  power  the 
man  of  property  is  never  safe  either;  and  the  dangers  of  his  position 
are  not  outweighed  by  satisfactions  derived  from  active  participation 
in  the  gambles  and  privileges  of  total  power.  Thus,  not  even  the 
members  of  the  bureaucratic  class  who  hold  no  office  challenge  the 
principles  of  the  absolutist  regime,  which  they  may  rejoin  tomorrow. 
And  the  officiating  members  of  this  class,  confronted  with  the-  Big 
Conflict,  aggressively  uphold  the  privileges  of  bureaucratic  power, 
revenue,  and  prestige  which  they  are  enjoying  now. 

Narrow  and  oversimplified  interpretation  has  obscured  the  issue 
by  formulating  it  only  in  terms  of  the  interests  of  a  single  person, 
the  autocratic  ruler.  To  be  sure,  the  despot  is  eager  to  perpetuate 
his  absolute  power,  but,  lacking  an  effective  governmental  apparatus, 


he  cannot  achieve  this  aim.  The  kings  of  Medieval  Europe  found 
absolutist  power  as  sweet  as  did  their  Byzantine  confreres.  But  the 
latter  succeeded  where  the  former  failed,  because  the  integrated 
Byzantine  bureaucracy  upheld  the  system  of  total  power  that  favored 
both  the  sovereign  and  the  men  of  the  apparatus,  whereas  the 
enfeoffed  vassals  of  the  Western  kings  safeguarded  and  reproduced 
their  privileges  by  keeping  the  king's  power  fragmented  and  checked. 
To  what  extent  can  the  prominence  of  the  army  in  certain  agro- 
managerial  countries  be  taken  as  a  sign  of  feudal  decentralization? 
Military  officials  are  as  much  men  of  the  state  apparatus  as  are  their 
civil  opposites;  and  if  the  first  centuries  of  the  Roman  empire 
demonstrate  anything,  it  is  exactly  this.  For  it  was  just  when  military 
leadership  was  prominent  that  Roman  absolutism  attained  its  matu- 
rity. The  crystallization  of  despotic  power  in  Muscovite  Russia  in- 
volved considerable  bureaucratic  activity;  but  the  overwhelming 
majority  of  the  new  serving  men  wielded  the  sword  and  not  the  pen. 
The  fact  that  in  later  Byzantium  the  heads  of  the  military  sector  of 
the  state  apparatus  figured  prominently  also  as  political  leaders  re- 
flects the  increasing  pressure  of  foreign  aggression.  But  it  does  not 
mean  that  these  individuals  served  their  government  in  a  limited 
and  conditional  way  as  members  of  a  baronial  and  feudal  class. 

b.  Late  Byzantium:  Marasmus  rather  than   Creative 

We  must  remember  all  this  when  we  try  to  evaluate  the  effect  of 
big  property  on  the  society  of  later  Byzantium.  Landed  property  in- 
creased during  the  first  centuries  of  the  Middle  Empire;  yet  state 
protection  of  peasant  holdings  and  periodic  confiscations  of  large 
estates20  notably  retarded  this  development.  After  1071,  controls 
grew  looser,  but  the  state  still  had  a  rein  on  the  country's  rural 
economy.  Contrary  to  corresponding  developments  in  feudal  Europe, 
conversion  of  the  cadaster  from  a  public  to  a  private  institution 
"never  occurred  in  the  East."  21  And  the  pronoetes,  however  they 
may  have  benefited  personally,  had  to  deliver  a  large  part  of  the 
taxes  they  collected  to  the  government.22 

After  the  interlude  of  the  Latin  Empire,  the  state  of  Byzantium 
never  regained  its  earlier  authority.  The  landowners  were  now  strong 
enough  to  withhold  a  much  greater  proportion  of  the  national  sur- 
plus than  they  had  done  previously,  but  they  did  not  consolidate 
their  ranks.  Neither  the  great  landowners  nor  the  representatives  of 
mobile  urban  wealth  established  nationwide  corporations:  estates. 
Private   property  became   big;   but  it  remained  politically  unor- 

CHAPTER    6,    C  179 

ganized.  Contrary  to  corresponding  developments  in  the  West,  the 
growth  of  big  private  property  in  Byzantium  did  not  give  birth  to  a 
new  society.  It  succeeded  only  in  weakening  and  paralyzing  the  old 

c.  The  Extraordinary  Staying  Power  of  Tsarist  Bureaucracy 

After  1204  the  Latin  Empire  temporarily  replaced  the  traditional 
despotic  regime.  Could  it  be  that  the  quasifeudal  institutions  of  this 
empire  (and  of  the  Western  enemies  of  Constantinople  in  general) 
influenced  the  bureaucratic  absolutism  of  Byzantium  so  seriously 
that  it  was  never  able  to  regain  its  former  superiority?  In  other  words, 
did  the  rural  and  urban  proprietors  succeed  in  paralyzing  the 
Byzantine  government  in  the  last  centuries  only  because  external 
forces  broke  the  backbone  of  despotic  power? 

In  terms  of  the  fundamental  issue  the  experiences  of  Tsarist 
Russia  are  eminently  instructive.  Post-Mongol  Russia  was  invaded 
several  times;  but  prior  to  the  democratic  revolution  of  1917  the 
absolutist  government  was  never  completely  broken.  Russia's  in- 
dustrialization was  strongly  stimulated  by  Western  developments. 
Foreign  money  flowed  into  private  (capitalist)  enterprises,  increasing 
the  weight  of  the  proprietary  sector.  And  Western  methods  and 
ideas  notably  affected  Russian  thought  and  performance.  But  all 
these  external  influences  did  not  destroy  the  absolutist  character  of 
the  state.  The  relation  of  the  Tsarist  bureaucracy  to  the  forces  of 
property — and  eventually  also  to  labor — continued  to  be  determined 
by  conditions  that  had  long  been  operative  in  traditional  Russian 
society.  And  this  relation  was,  and  remained,  a  relation  of  absolute 
bureaucratic  superiority. 

The  masters  of  the  despotic  state  apparatus  responded  to  the 
changing  historical  situation  with  changing  attitudes,  but  until  1917 
they  did  not  relinquish  their  total  power.  When  in  the  early  18th 
century  it  became  obvious  that  industrialization  was  vital  for  the 
country's  defense,  the  Tsarist  government  was  not  satisfied  with 
supervising  and  regulating  the  new  industries,  as  the  absolutist 
governments  of  Western  Europe  were  doing.  Instead,  it  directly 
managed  the  bulk  of  the  heavy  industry  and,  in  addition  also,  part 
of  the  light  industry/  probably  employing  for  these  purposes  the 

e.  In  1743  the  state  had  some  63,000  male  "souls"  ascribed  to  its  (Ural)  Mountain 
Works  and  87,000  "souls"  to  its  potash  works  (Mavor,  1925,  I:  441),  plus  an  un- 
known number  of  individuals  who  labored  outside  of  these  two  main  spheres  of 
government  production,  whereas  private  workshops  and  factories  occupied  some  30,000 
(ascribed)   male  "souls"   (ibid.:  493).   Under  Elizabeth   (1741-62)   the  sector  of  state- 


majority  of  all  industrial  workers  in  the  form  of  ascribed  labor/ 
The  machine  age  posed  many  new  problems  both  in  the  agrarian 
and  in  the  industrial  spheres  of  life.  The  ruling  bureaucracy  solved 
them — clumsily,  no  doubt,  but  successfully  insofar  as  the  preserva- 
tion of  its  hegemony  was  concerned.  The  Tsarist  regime  emanci- 
pated the  serfs,  but  it  maintained  a  tight  control  over  the  villages, 
which  were  administered  in  a  quasi-Oriental  manner.  During  the 
last  decades  of  the  19th  century  the  Russian  government,  by  direct 
and  indirect  taxes,  seems  to  have  taken  from  the  peasants  almost 
the  whole  of  their  agricultural  produce  proper — almost  50  per  cent 
of  the  entire  peasant  income.28  And  the  same  bureaucracy,  which  so 
effectively  upheld  its  acquisitive  interests,  was  perfectly  willing  to  let 
the  landed  aristocracy  lose  a  large  part  of  its  estates.  Between  1861 
and  1914  the  land  owned  by  this  group  shrank  by  over  40  per  cent.24 
And  Stolypin's  reform  program  of  1906  showed  the  absolutist 
officialdom  considerably  more  interested  in  creating  a  class  of  strong 
peasant  owners  than  in  protecting  the  landed  prerogatives  of  its 
proprietary  wing. 

In  the  nonagrarian  sector  of  economy  the  adjustments  were  simi- 
larly ingenious.  The  government  encouraged  private  capitalist  enter- 
prise in  industry  and  commerce  and — to  a  lesser  extent — also  in 
communications  and  banking.  But  at  the  beginning  of  the  20th 
century  it  managed  the  bulk  of  the  country's  railroads;  it  maintained 
fiscal  control  over  the  comprehensive  "monopoly"  industries,  and  it 
occupied  a  key  position  in  foreign  investments.  By  means  of  state 
guarantees  it  influenced  something  like  a  third  of  the  nonmonop- 
olized  light  industry,  and  in  1914  no  less  than  90  per  cent  of  the 
core  of  heavy  industry,  mining.25 

These  data  indicate  the  strategic  position  that  the  Tsarist  regime 
occupied  in  the  economy  of  Russia  at  the  beginning  of  the  20th 
century.  In  conformity  with  the  majority  of  other  analysts,  the 
prominent  Soviet  economist,  Lyashchenko,  notes  that  the  Russian 
banking  system  prior  to  the  revolution  "differed  materially  from  the 

managed  industry  temporarily  shrank  (ibid.:  440  ft.),  but  it  rose  again  impressively 
during  the  later  part  of  the  century.  The  fourth  census  reports  that  for  1781-83  there 
were  about  a  10,000  "souls"  ascribed  to  the  state-owned  Mountain  Works  and  54,000 
"souls"  to  private  units  (ibid.:  441).  The  somewhat  less  complete  report  of  the 
Manufactures  Collegium  noted  for  1780,  51,000  ascribed  "souls"  for  the  private 
Mountain  Works  and  about  24,000  ascribed  "souls"  outside  the  key  region  of  Russian 
industry,  the  "Mountains"  (ibid.:  493). 

/.  Heavy  industry  formed  the  core  of  the  state  works,  and  until  "the  beginning 
of  the  nineteenth  century,  the  iron  mines  and  smelting  works  were  manned  ex- 
clusively by  forced  labor"  (Mavor,  1925,  I:  534). 

CHAPTER    6,    C  l8l 

banking  system  of  the  Western  capitalist  countries.  .  .  .  The  state 
bank  was  the  central  bank  of  the  entire  Russian  credit  system,"  and 
the  director  of  the  credit  department  of  the  treasury  "controlled  the 
entire  financial  apparatus  of  the  country."  26 

There  is  no  need  to  rest  the  evaluation  of  Russia's  societal  order 
on  the  single  criterion  of  financial  control;  but  it  certainly  is  worth 
noting  that  one  bureau  of  the  Tsarist  state  apparatus  did  control 
the  country's  entire  financial  system.  Considering  the  role  of  the 
Tsarist  bureaucracy  in  rural  and  urban  society,  it  is  difficult  to 
avoid  the  decision  that  even  at  the  beginning  of  the  20th  century 
the  men  of  the  state  apparatus  were  stronger  than  society.27 

d.  Ottoman  Turkey 

The  later  development  of  Ottoman  Turkey  combines  features  of 
the  Byzantine  and  the  Russian  patterns.  The  Turkish  empire  re- 
sembled Byzantium,  with  whose  territory  it  was  largely  congruent, 
in  that  it  also  originally  controlled  classical  areas  of  hydraulic 
economy;  and  it  resembled  Tsarist  Russia  in  that  it  was  also  deeply 
influenced  by  the  industrial  society  of  modern  Europe.  It  differed 
from  Byzantium  in  that  the  loss  of  its  hydraulic  provinces  virtually 
coincided  with  the  decline  of  its  political  prominence;  and  it  differed 
from  Russia  in  that  the  growing  economic  and  cultural  influence  of 
the  industrial  West  was  accompanied,  and  partly  preceded,  by  a 
successful  encroachment  upon  Turkey's  sovereignty. 

e.  Diversified  Final  Evolutions 

In  all  three  countries  outside  aggression  was  a  crucial  factor  in  the 
weakening  of  the  despotic  regime;  and  this  indirectly  confirms  the 
staying  power  of  the  Orientally  despotic  order. 

In  the  case  of  Byzantium,  it  is  not  entirely  clear  whether  the  final 
marasmus  of  the  despotic  regime  was  caused  primarily  by  external 
or  internal  factors — that  is,  by  the  conquest  of  1204  or  by  the  ex- 
cessive growth  of  landlordism.  It  is  clear,  however,  that  the  growing 
proprietary  forces  did  not  dissociate  themselves  sharply  and  creatively 
from  the  decaying  state.  The  impact  of  the  West  was  sufficiently 
strong  to  paralyze  the  traditional  despotic  government,  but  it  was 
not  strong  enough  to  pave  the  way  for  the  growth  of  a  new  balanced 
and  property-based  (capitalist)  society. 

In  the  case  of  Russia,  bureaucratic  absolutism  suffered  a  mortal 
blow  from  outside  only  in  1917.  Prior  to  this  date  a  marginal 
Oriental  despotism  adjusted  itself  successfully  to  the  conditions  of 


an  advancing  industrialization.  The  Tsarist  government  made  more 
and  more  concessions  to  mobile  and  immobile  property;  and  during 
the  last  period  of  its  existence  it  even  permitted  a  number  of  politi- 
cal organizations  to  operate  on  a  national  scale.28  But  these  develop- 
ments notwithstanding,  the  bureaucratic  regime  perpetuated  itself 
until  the  beginning  of  the  year  1917. 

In  the  case  of  Turkey,  foreign  powers  broke  the  backbone  of 
Ottoman  independence  in  a  series  of  wars;  and  although  Russia 
participated  in  the  military  defeat  of  Turkey,  Western  European 
influence  prevailed  in  the  ensuing  transformation.  It  was  under 
Western  European  influence  that  Turkey  undertook  important  con- 
stitutional reforms.  Due  to  the  lesser  significance  of  independent 
proprietary  developments  both  in  land  and  capital,  the  Turkish 
reforms  were  at  first  even  more  superficial  than  the  reforms  accom- 
plished in  the  Tsarist  empire,  and  this  despite  the  fact  that  a  first 
parliament  was  established  in  Turkey  as  early  as  1876/7.  But  the 
weakness  of  the  independent  internal  forces  was  to  some  degree 
compensated  for  by  the  increasing  decay  of  the  traditional  state 
apparatus,  which  finally  collapsed  after  the  defeats  suffered  in  the 
Second  Balkan  War  and  in  World  War  I. 

4.  Marginal  Agrarian  Despotisms  Containing 
Conspicuous  Hydraulic  Elements 

Among  marginal  agrarian  despotisms  Muscovite  Russia  and  Middle 
Byzantium,  which  exhibit  numerous  cultural  similarities,  share  one 
trait  that  is  particularly  relevant  to  our  inquiry:  in  neither  civiliza- 
tion did  agrohydraulic  operations  play  a  significant  role.  On  the 
other  hand,  Liao  and  Maya  society,  which  culturally  had  little  in 
common,  are  alike  in  that  hydraulic  features  were  clearly  apparent 
in  both  of  them. 

a.  The  Liao  Empire 

The  Liao  empire  deserves  special  attention  for  a  number  of  reasons. 
It  is  one  of  the  few  Far  Eastern  societies  of  conquest  in  which  "bar- 
barian" (pastoral)  conquerors — in  this  case,  the  Ch'i-tan — ruled  over 
part  of  China  without  shifting  their  political  center  from  their  Inner 
Asiatic  grazing  grounds  to  the  subdued  (North)  Chinese  territories. 
Liao  is  the  first  of  the  four  great  historical  Chinese  dynasties  of 
conquest,  the  three  others  being  Chin  (ruled  by  the  Jurchen),  Yuan 
(ruled  by  the  Mongols),  and  Ch'ing  (ruled  by  the  Manchus).  Liao  in- 
stitutions therefore  have  significant  parallels  in  the  Chin,  Yuan,  and 

CHAPTER    6,    C  183 

Ch'ing  dynasties,  and  it  would  seem  also  in  other  dynasties  of  con- 
quest and  infiltration  in  China  and  elsewhere.47 

During  the  two  hundred  years  of  their  rule,  the  Ch'i-tan  acquired 
no  real  understanding  of  the  potentialities  of  hydraulic  agriculture. 
Instead,  and  not  dissimilar  to  other  mounted  "barbarians,"  they 
eyed  with  suspicion  the  irrigated  fields  which  impeded  the  free 
sweep  of  their  cavalry.20  The  greater  part  of  their  agrarian  territories, 
however,  had  a  long  hydraulic  tradition.  Canals  had  been  dug  and 
rivers  diked  prior  to  the  establishment  of  Liao  power  in  North  China 
and  Manchuria;  30  and  the  Ch'i-tan  conquerors  seem  to  have  been 
perfectly  willing  to  preserve  this  hydraulic  heritage.  When  a  flood 
inundated  thirty  villages  in  present  Hopei,  "an  imperial  decree 
ordered  the  old  canals  dredged";  31  and  when  in  1074  excessive  rains 
threatened  the  population  of  the  Liao  River  basin,  "the  northern 
chancellor  [ordered]  large-scale  mobilization  of  the  able-bodied  men 
along  the  river  in  order  to  complete  the  river  dikes."  An  experienced 
official  warned  that  such  "large-scale  works"  would  not  be  advan- 
tageous at  this  moment  and  he  asked  that  the  labor  corvee  be 
stopped.  "The  imperial  court  approved  it  and  discontinued  the 
work."  Subsequent  events  indicated  both  the  soundness  of  the 
official's  warning — the  river  caused  no  calamity — and  the  dimension 
and  weight  of  the  hydraulic  corvee:  "Along  the  shores  of  the  river 
for  a  thousand  li  there  was  not  a  person  who  was  not  highly 
pleased."  32 

The  Liao  government  was  equally  well  equipped — and  consider- 
ably less  reluctant — to  employ  its  manpower  for  nonhydraulic  con- 
structions. Highways  were  maintained  and  repaired  33 — once  with 
a  huge  corvee  of  two  hundred  thousand  men;  3*  chains  of  fortifica- 
tions were  erected  along  the  frontier; 35  and  two  new  capitals  and 
many  palaces,  temples,  and  tombs  were  built  north  of  the  old  seats 
of  Chinese  culture.36  Literary  descriptions  and  archaeological  finds 
make  it  clear  that  the  Liao  labor  service  was  as  effective  from  the 
standpoint  of  the  rulers  as  it  was  onerous  from  the  standpoint  of  the 

Being  great  builders,  the  Liao  rulers  were  also  great  organizers. 
Their  offices  registered  the  population  for  purposes  of  taxation,  labor 
service,  and  military  recruitment.38  Their  postal  system  was  both 
elaborate  and  fast.39  And  their  army  was  a  well-coordinated  fighting 

g.  This  study  was  facilitated  by  the  fact  that  the  Chinese  subjects  of  Liao,  being 
trained  in  historiography,  recorded  the  institutions  of  Liao  society  more  fully  than 
the  scribes  of  most  other  conquest  societies  of  Asia  that  were  dominated  by  pastoral 
rulers.  The  reasons  for  this  phenomenon  are  discussed  in  Wittfogel,  1949:  passim. 


machine.  We  have  reason  to  believe  that  Chingis  Khan  shaped  his 
own  terrifying  military  organization  after  the  Liao  pattern.40 

These  constructional  and  organizational  developments  were  sup- 
plemented by  genuinely  hydraulic  methods  of  acquisition.  True, 
some  "entrusted"  territories  delivered  only  their  wine  tax  to  the 
central  government;  41  but  these  regions  comprised  a  mere  fraction 
of  the  realm;  42  and  eventually  most  of  them  came  under  full  gov- 
ernment control.43  In  the  great  majority  of  all  administrative  sub- 
divisions the  state  insisted  on  its  subjects  paying  taxes,44  just  as  it 
insisted  on  their  rendering  labor  and  military  services.  Powerful  fam- 
ilies and  monasteries  sought  to  have  households  living  on  their  land 
struck  from  the  public  registers,  but  evidently  the  state  made  no  con- 
cessions in  its  claim  to  tax  them.45 

The  final  crisis  of  Liao  power  has  all  the  earmarks  of  a  dynastic 
crisis  under  a  typical  agrarian  despotism.  Here,  as  in  similar  circum- 
stances, the  landowners  increased  their  acquisitive 46  but  not  their  or- 
ganizational strength.  The  collapse  of  the  dynasty  led  to  no  property- 
based  industrial  order.  Instead  it  led  to  the  restoration  and  rejuvena- 
tion of  the  old  agromanagerial  society. 

b.  Maya  Society 

Maya  civilization  presents  ecological  and  cultural  features  that  in 
several  ways  are  unique.  But  these  "unique"  features  overlay  con- 
structional, organizational,  and  acquisitive  conditions  remarkably 
similar  to  those  of  other  marginal  agromanagerial  societies. 

The  ancient  Maya  were  spread  over  a  wide  area,  which  comprised 
the  greater  part  of  present  Guatemala,  the  western  part  of  the  Re- 
public of  Honduras,  all  of  British  Honduras,  and  Yucatan.  Like  most 
of  Central  America  this  area  has  a  sharply  divided  rain  year.  From 
May  to  October  precipitation  is  heavy,  while  during  the  remaining 
period  there  is  little  rain.  This  dichotomy  encouraged  elaborate  hy- 
draulic developments  in  territories  that  border  the  Lake  of  Mexico 
and  also  in  several  highland  regions  further  to  the  south,  the  Maya- 
inhabited  zones  of  Guatemala  and  Honduras  among  them.  However, 
in  large  sections  of  the  Maya  area  geological  peculiarities  decisively 
shaped  and  limited  hydraulic  enterprise.  Almost  the  entire  lowland 
plain  of  Yucatan  and  a  great  part  of  the  hill  zone  between  this  plain 
and  the  highlands  are  composed  of  an  extremely  porous  mineral: 
limestone;  consequently  precipitation  quickly  sinks  below  an  easily 
accessible  level. 

A  landscape  which  precludes  the  formation  of  rivers  and  lakes  is  of 
course  entirely  unsuitable  for  irrigation  agriculture.  Worse.  The  lack 

CHAPTER    6,    C  185 

of  natural  storage  places  for  drinking  water,  other  than  some  well- 
like waterholes,  presents  a  serious  obstacle  for  any  permanent  or  pop- 
ulous settlements.  Persons  desirous  of  establishing  such  settlements 
would  therefore  have  to  make  concerted  efforts  not  for  purposes  of 
irrigation  but  for  the  gathering  and  preservation  of  drinking  water. 
As  a  result  of  such  efforts  we  can  expect  to  find  hydraulic  installa- 
tions that  play  only  a  minor  role  in  other  agrarian  societies. 

When,  in  1519,  Cortez  briefly  visited  Yucatan,  he  noted  wells  (po- 
zos) and  water  reservoirs  (albercas)  in  the  residential  compounds  of 
the  "nobles."  *7  And  in  1566  Landa,  in  the  first  systematic  description 
of  Maya  civilization,  stressed  both  the  unique  water  difficulties  of 
the  area  and  the  way  in  which  moisture  was  provided  "in  part  by 
industry  and  in  part  by  nature."  48  It  is  significant  that  Landa,  like 
the  authors  of  the  Relaciones  de  Yucatan,11  places  the  man-made  de- 
vices for  providing  water  first. 

The  installations  for  providing  drinking  water  were  (1)  artificial 
wells  (pozos  or  cenotes  in  the  primary  sense  of  the  Maya  word),49  (2) 
cisterns  (chultuns),  and  (3)  man-made  large  reservoirs  (aguadas). 
The  Relaciones  report  artificial  pozos  everywhere  in  the  lowland;  50 
and  the  early  observers  fully  understood  the  difficulties  of  digging 
and  maintaining  good  wells  without  the  aid  of  metal  tools.51  Even 
after  the  introduction  of  iron  implements,  the  maintenance  and  use 
of  the  man-made  wells  often  required  ingenious  communal  action.52 
In  some  cases  the  methods  employed  were  intricate  "past  belief,"  53 
involving  the  active  participation  of  "the  population  of  a  city."  54 

But  important  as  the  cenotes  were,  they  did  not  as  a  rule  provide 
water  for  large  populations.  Says  Casares,  a  modern  Yucatan  engi- 
neer: "If  we  were  to  depend  on  the  wells  only  for  the  supply  of 
water,  the  greater  part  of  our  peninsula  could  not  be  inhabited."  55 
This  being  so,  the  cisterns  and  aguadas  of  Yucatan  become  crucially 

Bottle-shaped  subterranean  constructions  with  circular  openings, 
chultuns,  have  been  discovered  in  several  places.  At  Uxmal,  Stephens 
noticed  "so  many  of  them,  and  in  places  where  they  were  so  little 
to  be  expected,  that  they  made  rambling  out  of  the  cleared  paths 
dangerous,  and  to  the  last  day  of  our  visit  we  were  constantly  finding 
new  ones."  56  These  constructions  seem  to  have  provided  "immense 
reservoirs  for  supplying  the  city  with  water."  67 

In  part.  Besides  the  cenotes  and  the  cisterns,*  the  ancient  Mayas 

h.  RY,  I:  116,  144,  182,  206,  210,  221,  248,  266.  Occasionally  major  emphasis  is 
placed  on  the  natural  pozos  (ibid.:  47,  and  perhaps  290). 

1,  Stephens  (1848,  I:  232)  assumes  that  the  chultuns  of  Uxmal  had  provided  water 
for  the  people  of  the  ruined  city — "in  part  at  least."  Casares  (1907:   227)  also  com- 


constructed  large  pools  or  lakes,  aguadas.  Even  in  the  hilly  regions 
where  the  terrain  provided  natural  waterholes  or  cavities,  sartenejos, 
Casares  considers  the  aguadas,  whether  natural  or  artificial,  much 
more  important.  Those  that  were  man-made  differed  greatly  in 
shape  and  quality:  "Some  have  a  bottom  made  out  of  stones  and 
some  have  not  such  stones,  and  they  are  of  all  sizes — true  works  of 
art  they  are — that  show  the  ingenuity  and  attainments  of  their 
builders."  5S 

Few  students  have  searched  for  these  aguadas  as  eagerly  as  did  the 
pioneer  explorer,  Stephens.  At  first  glance,  many  of  them  seemed 
natural,69  and  Stephens'  informants  felt  sure — and  recent  research 
has  proven  them  to  be  right  60 — that  "hundreds  are  perhaps  now 
buried  in  the  woods,  which  once  furnished  this  element  of  life  to 
the  teeming  population  of  Yucatan."  61 

From  the  standpoint  of  hydraulic  organization  the  importance  of 
this  fact  can  scarcely  be  overrated.  The  cenotes  usually  required  the 
cooperative  efforts  of  smaller  communities  only;  and  the  urban 
cisterns  were  probably  constructed  and  maintained  by  the  work 
teams  that  "built  at  their  own  expense  the  houses  of  the  lords."  62 
But  in  the  case  of  the  aguadas  large-scale  cooperation  was  impera- 
tive. In  the  midnineteenth  century  a  ranchero,  who  wanted  the 
aguada  near  his  estate  cleaned,  "secured  the  co-operation  of  all  the 
ranchos  and  haciendas  for  leagues  around,  and  at  length  fairly  en- 
listing them  all  in  the  task,  at  one  time  he  had  at  work  fifteen 
hundred  Indians,  with  eighty  superintendents."  63  This  much  co- 
ordinated labor  was  required  when  a  single  aguada  had  to  be 
cleaned  with  iron  tools.  Under  the  stone-age  conditions  of  the 
ancient  Maya,  the  cleaning,  and  still  more  the  building,  of  a  chain 
of  aguadas  certainly  involved  huge  work  teams. 

Further  studies  must  be  made  before  the  institutional  weight  of 
the  man-made  cenotes,  cisterns,  and  aguadas  can  be  fully  determined. 
But  even  our  present  limited  knowledge  entitles  us  to  state  that 
the  constructional  operations  of  the  Maya  include  a  not  inconsider- 
able hydraulic  sector.  Aguadas  were  in  use  not  only  in  the  lowlands 
but  also  in  the  hill  zone,84  where  some  of  the  most  ancient  centers 
of  Maya  civilization  were  located.85  And  irrigation  canals,  artificial 
lakes,  and  other  familiar  types  of  hydraulic  works  have  been  dis- 
covered in  the  highland  sector  of  the  Maya  area  i  and,  of  course, 
also  in  the  hill  zone.* 

ments  on  the  limited  capacity  of  these  cisterns  to  satisfy  the  water  needs  of  most  of 
the  ancient  cities. 

j.  In  the  old  Maya  city  of  Palenque,  Stephens  discovered  the  remains  of  a  water 
channel  faced  with  large  stones  (Stephens,  ITCA,  II:  321  and  344).  Blom  found  an 
elaborate  drainage  system  "in  other  parts  of  the  ruins"  (Blom  and  La  Farge,  TT,  I: 

CHAPTER    6,    C  187 

The  nonhydraulic  constructions  of  the  ancient  Maya  have  been 
frequently  described.  The  early  Spanish  records  stress  the  magnitude 
of  the  "houses"  and  "edifices,"  which  the  people  built  for  their 
secular  and  priestly  masters;  66  and  grandiose  ruins  confirm  the  early 
written  evidence.  Massive  stone  highways  connected  a  number  of 
cities,  and  like  the  pyramids,  palaces,  and  temples  they  must  have 
required  great  levies  of  corvee  labor.67 

No  compensation  was  given  for  certain  types  of  the  construction 
corvee;  68  and  a  similar  policy  may  have  prevailed  also  with  regard 
to  other  corvee  services,  including  agricultural  labor  for  "the 
lords."  69  But  whether  the  pay  arrangements  for  labor  services  were 
uniform  or  not,  there  can  be  little  doubt  that  the  commoners  worked 
for  their  masters  in  a  disciplined  manner.  Prominent  men,  obviously 
officials,  "who  were  very  well  obeyed,"  70  acted  on  the  ruler's  behalf. 
And  the  power  of  the  sovereign,  who  controlled  either  a  single  city- 
state  or  a  cluster  of  such  units,  can  be  judged  from  the  fact  that  local 
officials  received  no  share  of  the  tax  they  collected  for  delivery  to 
the  center."1  The  so-called  "town  councilors,"  who  assisted  the  highest 
local  official,  were  "in  charge  of  certain  subdivisions  of  the  town, 
collecting  tribute  and  attending  to  other  municipal  affairs."  71  Ac- 
cording to  a  regional  description,  the  officials  of  the  town  wards 
had  "to  attend  to  the  tribute  and  services  (communal  labor?)  at 
the  proper  time  and  to  assemble  the  people  of  their  wards  for 
banquets  and  festivals  as  well  as  for  war."  72  In  addition  to  a  variety 
of  civil  officials,  who  used  a  hieroglyphic  script  and  who,  among 
other  things,  kept  land  records,73  there  were  military  officials,  some 
holding  their  posts  for  life,  some  being  appointed  for  three-year 

189).  He  also  noticed  a  "fairly  elaborate"  irrigation  system  in  Amatenango,  Chiapas 
(ibid.,  II:  396),  a  region  which  was  formerly  part  of  the  Old  Maya  empire.  Further 
to  the  east,  in  Guatemala,  Stephens  (ITCA,  I:  206)  encountered  "a  large  artificial 
lake,  made  by  damming  up  several  streams."  A  canal  in  Honduras,  probably  pre- 
historic, may  have  "served  to  irrigate  a  large  portion  of  the  lower  plain"  near  Lake 
Yojoa  (Strong,  Kidder,  and  Paul,  1938:  101). 

k.  The  hill  zone,  intermediate  between  the  mountain  region  and  Northern  Yucatan, 
contains  troughlike  depressions,  whose  clay  bottoms  hold  "lakes,  swampy  lowlands, 
and  streams"  (Lundell,  1937:  5;  Ricketson,  1937:  9;  Cooke,  1931:  287),  but  even  here 
the  greater  part  of  the  terrain  is  composed  of  a  limestone  so  porous  that  the  natural 
precipitation  quickly  sinks  below  a  readily  accessible  level,  creating  a  dangerous 
deficiency  during  three  or  four  months  of  every  year  (Ricketson,  1937:  10).  Bottle- 
shaped  chultuns,  "excavated  in  the  solid  limestone  throughout  the  region,"  may  have 
been  used  for  storing  water,  if  their  walls  were  "rendered  impervious  by  plaster" 
(ibid.:  9  ff.).  An  aguada  near  Uaxactun  is  "doubtless  the  remains  of  an  ancient  reservoir, 
and  excavation  in  its  bottom  would  probably  lay  bare  the  stone  flooring  with  which  it 
originally  had  been  paved"  (Morley,  1938:  139). 

m.  The  local  officials  were  supported  by  the  people,  who  worked  their  fields,  main- 
tained their  houses,  and  served  them  personally  (Tozzer,  1941:  62  ft.,  n.  292;  Roys, 
1943:  6a). 


terms.7*  Picked  men,  who  did  most  of  the  fighting  and  who  received 
a  special  compensation,  seem  to  have  constituted  cadre  troops,  but 
"other  men  could  also  be  called  out."  75  The  rulers  determined  (and 
limited)  the  duration  of  a  campaign  in  accordance  with  pragmatic 
considerations,  October  to  the  end  of  January,  the  agricultural  slack 
season,  being  considered  the  most  suitable  time  for  waging  war.76 

In  the  acquisitive  sphere  the  power  of  the  regime  over  its  subjects 
was  equally  unchecked;  and  there  is  no  reason  to  doubt  that  the 
rulers  used  their  opportunities  to  the  full.  It  has  been  said  that 
"tribute"  was  light; 77  and  the  amounts  requested  from  individual 
households  may  indeed  have  been  modest.  But  it  must  be  remem- 
bered that  under  Mexican  and  Inca  dominion,  subjects  who  culti- 
vated the  fields  for  the  state  and  the  temples  paid  no  taxes.  In 
contrast  to  this,  the  Maya  commoners  who  worked  the  fields  of  their 
masters  delivered  in  addition  "maize,  beans,  chile,  poultry,  honey, 
cotton  cloth,  and  game."  78  One  regional  report  implies  that  such 
tributes  were  voluntary,  but  another  dealing  with  the  same  locality 
notes  that  anyone  who  failed  to  pay  would  be  sacrificed  to  the  gods.79 

5.  "Loose  2"  or  "Marginal  1"? 

Our  survey  of  Byzantium  and  Russia  and  of  the  Liao  empire  and 
Maya  civilization  leads  to  several  conclusions.  The  hydraulic  density 
of  the  four  institutional  complexes  differs  greatly:  it  is  very  low 
or  zero  in  the  first  two  cases  and  relatively  high  in  the  last  two. 
As  a  matter  of  fact,  a  reasonable  argument  can  be  made  for  classing 
Liao  and  the  Maya  as  borderline  cases  of  loose  hydraulic  societies — 
variants  of  "Loose  2,"  to  use  our  symbols.  For  the  time  being  we 
shall  view  them  conservatively  as  marginal  Oriental  societies  with 
substantial  hydraulic  elements,  "Marginal  1"  (M  1),  as  juxtaposed 
to  "Marginal  2"  (M  2),  that  is,  Oriental  societies  with  little  or  no 
hydraulic  substance. 

The  closeness  of  M  1  to  L  2  and  the  gap  between  M  1  and  M  2 
are  as  significant  as  the  fact  that  all  variants  of  the  marginal  type 
utilize  the  organizational  and  acquisitive  methods  of  despotic  state- 
craft. Thus,  however  marginal  they  may  be  hydraulically,  their 
methods  of  social  control  place  all  of  them  definitely  in  the  "Orien- 
tal" world. 

6.  Fragmenting  Patterns  of  Inheritance  and  a 
Government-Dependent  Dominant  Religion 

Many  supplementary  data  can  be  adduced  to  strengthen  our  basic 
classification.  But  here  we  shall  refer  only  to  two  particularly  sig- 

CHAPTER    6,    C  189 

nificant  criteria:   the  fragmenting  system  of  inheritance  and  the 
dependence  of  religious  authority. 

The  Justinian  Code — Novella  118 — prescribes  the  equal  division 
of  property  among  the  children  of  a  deceased  person.  This  provision, 
whatever  its  origin,  fits  to  perfection  the  needs  of  agrarian  despotism. 

In  Russia  proprietary  conditions  changed  as  greatly  as  the  in- 
stitutional patterns  of  which  they  were  a  part.  Votchina  land,  a  pre- 
Mongol  form  of  strong  noble  property,  was  not  subjected  to  frag- 
mentation; and  this  continued  to  be  the  custom  until  long  after 
the  noble  owners  of  such  land  were  compelled  to  serve  the  state. 
Pomestye  land  was  office  land.  Originally  it  passed  from  father  to 
one  son;  80  but  since  all  adult  males  were  obliged  to  render  civil  or 
military  service,  the  pomestye  estate  was  finally  considered  a  family 
possession  to  be  divided  among  the  father's  several  heirs.81  When 
the  growing  importance  of  firearms  changed  the  aristocratic  cavalry 
army  into  a  plebeian  infantry  army,  fewer  noble  serving  men  were 
needed,  and  Peter  I,  who  merged  pomestye  and  votchina  land,  made 
the  use  of  the  new  type  of  service  (state)  land  hereditary.82  The  law 
of  1731  is  an  important  milestone  in  the  process  of  making  pomestye 
land  private.  From  this  year  on,  pomestye  land  was  divided  among 
all  the  children  and,  according  to  the  Law  Book,  "equally  among 
all  of  them."  83 

In  Western  Europe  the  nobles  emerged  from  a  period  of  con- 
tractual and  limited  (feudal)  state  service  with  their  landed  property 
strengthened  through  primogeniture  and  entail.  Contrary  to  this, 
and  contrary  also  to  the  indigenous  votchina  tradition,  the  nobles 
of  Tsarist  Russia  emerged  from  a  period  of  compulsory  and  un- 
limited state  service  with  their  landed  property  weakened  through 
a  law  of  inheritance  that  prescribed  fragmentation. 

In  Liao  society  the  ruling  tribal  stratum — except  in  the  matter  of 
imperial  succession — seems  to  have  rejected  primogeniture,84  thus 
maintaining  its  pastoral  mores,  which  permitted  all  sons  to  share  in 
the  family  property.  In  its  Chinese  sector  the  regime  was  careful  to 
uphold  the  traditional  Chinese  laws.83  Many  edicts  praised  Chinese 
subjects  who  conformed  to  what  were  considered  ideal  patterns  of 
Chinese  familism.86  This  being  so,  we  have  no  reason  to  doubt  that 
the  government  also  upheld  the  fragmenting  Chinese  law  of  in- 

A  fragmenting  pattern  of  inheritance  certainly  prevailed  among 
the  Maya.  Says  Landa:  "These  Indians  did  not  permit  their  daughters 
to  inherit  with  their  brothers,  except  it  was  through  kindness  or 
good  will;  and  in  this  case  they  gave  them  some  part  of  the  accumula- 
tion, and  the  brothers  divided  the  rest  equally,  except  that  to  the 


one  who  had  aided  the  most  notably  in  increasing  the  property,  they 
gave  the  equivalent."  87 

In  Byzantium  the  Church,  being  nationally  organized  from  the 
beginning,  was  well  prepared  to  strive  for  independence.  But  the 
rulers  of  Eastern  Rome  and  Early  Byzantium  treated  religion  as 
part  of  the  jus  publicum;  and  even  after  the  catastrophies  of  the 
7th  century,  the  Byzantine  government  was  able  to  combat  the 
Church's  drive  for  autonomy.  In  the  10th  century  the  emperor  still 
played  a  decisive  role  in  the  selection  of  the  Patriarch.  And  by 
virtue  of  his  judicial  position  he  could  also  interfere  in  church 

Significantly,  the  Church  became  more  independent  in  the  last 
phase  of  the  Middle  Empire;  but  even  then  the  emperor  could  still 
force  an  obstructing  Patriarch  to  abdicate."  It  was  only  after  the 
period  of  the  Latin  Empire  that  a  completely  shattered  autocracy 
was  compelled  to  tolerate  an  almost  autonomous  Church.89 

In  Tsarist  Russia  the  bureaucratic  regime  expressed  its  enormous 
vitality  by  its  victory  over  the  Eastern  Church,  which  after  the  fall 
of  Byzantium  shifted  its  center  to  Moscow,  the  "Third  Rome."  At 
the  end  of  the  Mongol  period  the  increasingly  powerful  Russian 
state  exerted  an  ever-increasing  authority  over  the  Church.  Ivan  III 
seized  half  the  monasterial  land  in  Novgorod;  Ivan  IV,  the  Terrible, 
required  more  taxes  and  services  from  Church  land;  90  and  in  1649 
a  new  "department  of  monasteries"  further  tightened  the  state's 
control  over  the  Church.91  In  1721,  Peter  I  abolished  the  Patriarchate 
and  placed  the  Church  under  a  government  body,  the  Holy  Synod.92 
And  a  few  decades  later,  in  1 764,  the  state  seized  most  of  the  Church 
land  without  compensation,  assigning  only  one-eighth  of  the  revenue 
from  the  land  to  the  clergy.93  In  consequence  of  these  combined 
political,  religious,  and  economic  measures,  "the  church  became 
more  and  more  a  part  of  the  administrative  machinery  of  the  state."  94 

In  Liao  society  the  problem  of  an  independent  Church  never 
arose.  Government  officials,  headed  by  the  emperor,  shared  leader- 
ship in  religious  ceremonies  with  a  variety  of  shamans,  who,  like 
the  priests  of  the  Buddhist  temples,  obviously  were  not  coordinated 
in  any  nationwide  and  independent  organization  ("church").95 

The  close  relation  between  secular  and  religious  authority  among 
the  Maya  has  already  been  mentioned.  The  ruler  of  a  territorial  state, 
the  halach  uinic,  is  believed  to  have  fulfilled  "definite  religious 
functions"; 9a  and  certain  priests  might  also  be  war  chiefs.97  But 

n.  A  serious  conflict  was  finally  decided  in  favor  of  the  Church,  not  because  the 
Church  was  such  a  strong  independent  factor  but  because  the  high  bureaucracy 
turned  against  the  sovereign  (Ostrogorsky,  1940:  239  ft.). 

CHAPTER    6,    C  igi 

nothing  indicates  that  the  priests  of  the  great  temples  were  bound 
together  in  any  single  organization,  except  insofar  as  they  partici- 
pated in  the  work  of  the  government.  Says  Scholes:  "In  many  cases 
priestly  and  political  functions  had  been  combined  in  such  a  manner 
that  it  was  difficult,  if  not  impossible,  to  differentiate  them."  98 

7.  Location,  Genesis,  and  Institutional  Vulnerability 
of  Marginal  Agrarian  Despotisms 

Middle  and  Late  Byzantium,  the  Liao  empire,  and  the  Maya  point 
up  some  of  the  institutional  diversities  among  marginal  agrarian 
despotisms.  Discussion  of  other  pertinent  civilizations  would  differ- 
entiate further  the  picture  we  have  of  this  significant  subtype.  The 
Hopi  Indians  of  Arizona,  for  instance,  engage  in  extremely  modest 
hydraulic  enterprises — mainly  communal  spring  cleaning" — but 
their  building  activities  are  impressive. 

Tibet  was  faced  with  certain  irrigation  tasks  in  the  river  valleys 
of  the  high  plateau,100  but  the  hydraulic  weight  of  these  tasks  was 
probably  not  great.  Nevertheless,  the  "monk  officials"  101  did  operate 
a  well-functioning  labor  service  102  and  an  elaborate  and  fast  postal 
system  also.103  Holders  of  land  grants  served  the  government  uncon- 
ditionally and  as  regular  officials;  104  and  the  fiscal  apparatus  insisted 
on  taxing  the  bulk  of  the  population.105 

The  kings  of  ancient  Asia  Minor  and  certain  territorial  rulers 
in  early  China  were  more  outstanding  as  builders  and  organizers 
than  as  hydraulic  engineers.  But  once  the  common  institutional 
denominator  is  understood,  it  is  easy  to  recognize  that  all  these  civili- 
zations are  variants  of  the  marginal  type  of  hydraulic  society. 

How  did  these  marginal  configurations  come  into  being?  And 
how  open  were  they  to  change?  Before  trying  to  answer  these  ques- 
tions, we  must  consider  their  relative  location — that  is,  their  spacial 
relation  to  the  major  hydraulic  areas  of  the  world. 

a.  Location 

Taking  the  major  hydraulic  zones  of  the  Old  and  the  New  World 
as  coordinates,  we  find  marginal  developments,  as  for  instance  the 
nonhydraulic  territorial  states  of  ancient  China,  interspersed  between 
definitely  hydraulic  areas.  Many  other  marginal  developments  (the 
Hopi  Pueblos,  the  kingdoms  of  ancient  Asia  Minor,  Middle  By- 
zantium, Tibet,  Liao,  and  the  Maya)  appear  at  the  geographical 
periphery  of  a  hydraulic  zone. 

Russia,  however,  does  not.  Russia  had  no  close  hydraulic  neigh- 
bors when,  in  the  13th  century,  the  Mongols  began  to  introduce 


Orientally  despotic  methods  of  government.  Cases  like  Russia  are 
more  the  exception  than  the  rule;  but  they  serve  to  demonstrate 
that  marginal  agrarian  despotisms  may  arise  at  a  great  distance  from 
the  nearest  conspicuous  center  of  hydraulic  life. 

b.  Genesis 

The  relative  location  of  most  marginal  agromanagerial  states  is 
highly  suggestive  of  their  origins.  The  bulk  of  all  such  regimes  ob- 
viously came  into  being  not  earlier — and  often  demonstrably  later 
— than  the  area's  oldest  hydraulic  civilizations.  In  some  cases,  such 
as  Byzantium,  the  marginal  territory  split  off  from  an  older  (loose) 
hydraulic  complex.  In  others,  the  marginal  territory  was  adjacent  to 
a  hydraulic  society  proper;  and  while  interrelation  cannot  always  be 
documented,  it  seems  probable  that  it  was  the  second  type  which 
stimulated  the  first. 

The  constructional,  organizational,  and  acquisitive  patterns  of  the 
hydraulic  center  may  have  been  transferred  directly  to  nonhydraulic 
regions  during  periods  of  temporary  control.  Or  native  leaders  may 
have  adopted  the  power  techniques  of  their  hydraulic  neighbors, 
which  from  the  standpoint  of  the  ruling  group  had  much  to  recom- 
mend them  and  which  could  be  easily  imposed  on  a  society  that 
lacked  strong,  well-organized,  and  independent  proprietary,  military, 
and  ideological  forces.  Or  experts  in  managerial  and  despotic  control 
may  have  gone  from  their  hydraulic  homeland  to  adjacent  non- 
hydraulic  territories  either  in  flight  or  on  invitation  to  become 
teachers  or  co-leaders  in  their  new  environment. 

On  an  institutional  checkerboard  familiarity  with  the  hydraulic 
techniques  of  organization  and  acquisition  was  probably  all  that 
was  needed  to  encourage  a  changeover  from  a  loosely  coordinated 
nonhydraulic  tribe  to  a  nonhydraulic  managerial  community.  Thus 
it  is  easy  to  understand  why  the  Hopi  Indians  built  fortress-like 
villages  similar  to  those  of  the  more  properly  hydraulic  Pueblos; 
why,  like  the  inhabitants  of  other  Pueblos,  they  integrated  their 
work  teams  under  communal  leaders;  and  why  they  cultivated  the 
fields  of  their  supreme  chieftain. 

A  combination  of  state-centered  hydraulic  and  marginal  agro- 
managerial  societies  may  emerge  from  a  composite  tribal  root.  In 
prehistoric  and  protohistoric  China  such  a  development  may  have 
been  stimulated  by  varied  and  prolonged  culture  contacts:  visits, 
alliances,  trade  relations,  and  conquests. 

The  introduction  of  marginal  agromanagerial  institutions  by  non- 
agrarian  tribal  conquerors  presents  another  genetic  pattern.  In  this 

CHAPTER    6,    C  193 

case,  the  conquerors  employ  and  transfer  organizational  and  ac- 
quisitive methods  of  hydraulic  statecraft,  although  they  themselves 
do  not,  to  any  relevant  extent,  practice  agriculture,  not  even  in  its 
nonhydraulic  form.  And  being  nomadic,  they  may  carry  these 
methods  far  beyond  the  political  and  cultural  borders  of  any  major 
hydraulic  area.  The  Mongol  conquest  of  Russia  demonstrates  both 

The  power  of  the  Ch'i-tan  differed  from  that  of  the  Golden  Horde 
in  character  as  well  as  in  origin.  The  bulk  of  the  agricultural  regions 
of  the  Liao  empire  had  previously  been  part  of  the  old,  loosely 
hydraulic  world  of  China;  and  the  Ch'i-tan  masters  found  it  easy  to 
perpetuate  the  traditionally  absolutist  administration  with  the  aid 
of  Chinese  officials,  who  were  ready  to  act  as  junior  partners  in  a 
somewhat  uneasy,  but  workable,  alliance.  Like  the  Mongols  of  the 
Golden  Horde,  the  Ch'i-tan  tribesmen  in  their  great  majority  re- 
mained pastoralists;  but  their  ruling  group  integrated  itself  closely 
with  Orientally  despotic  officials,  who  directed  huge  nonhydraulic 
constructions  and  even  considerable  hydraulic  operations. 

The  marginal  agromanagerial  societies  discussed  in  our  survey 
came  into  being  in  various  ways;  but  they  all  seem  to  have  derived 
from  compact  or  loose  hydraulic  societies.  In  many  instances,  such 
an  origin  is  certain,  and  in  others  it  is  likely.  But  is  it  the  necessary 
and  only  way? 

By  no  means.  It  is  entirely  possible  that  some  agrodespotic  societies 
emerged  independently.  But  obviously  we  can  assume  such  a  develop- 
ment only  when  the  despotic  order  in  question  fulfills  the  organiza- 
tional and  acquisitive  functions  of  a  hydraulic  government  and  when, 
for  geographical  and  historical  reasons,  institutional  diffusion  can  be 
excluded  as  altogether  unlikely.  Having  acknowledged  the  possibility 
of  independent  origin,  I  must  add  that  the  cases  in  which  agrodespotic 
regimes  in  the  terms  of  our  inquiry  certainly  or  probably  have  a 
hydraulic  ancestry  are  so  numerous  that  the  cases  in  which  independ- 
ent origins  can  be  established  will  not  substantially  change  our  basic 
contention.  Virtually  all  historically  significant  agrodespotisms  that 

o.  The  attempt  to  explain  the  rise  of  Muscovite  despotism  as  the  consequence  of 
external  military  pressure  usually  results  in  the  view  that  this  pressure  was  exerted 
in  the  main  by  Eastern  nomadic  aggressors  (see  Kluchevsky,  HR,  II:  319  ff.).  The 
imitation  of  despotic  power  techniques  by  a  non-"Oriental"  government  is  of 
course  conceivable,  particularly  if  the  nongovernmental  sector  of  society  lacks  "strong, 
well-organized,  and  independent  proprietary,  military,  and  ideological  forces."  How- 
ever, the  noble  owners  of  votchina  land,  although  not  organized  in  a  corporation, 
were  not  without  strength;  and  the  actual  events  of  the  Mongol  period  show  that 
the  Great  Princes  of  Moscow,  who  set  out  to  subdue  them,  were  for  a  considerable 
time  directly  under  Tatar  leadership. 


fulfill  no  hydraulic  functions  seem  to  have  been  derived  from  hy- 
draulic societies. 

c.  Institutional  Vulnerability 

Direct  or  indirect  connection  with  an  agrohydraulic  center  seems 
to  have  been  necessary  for  the  rise  of  virtually  all  marginal  agrarian 
despotisms.  But  a  continued  connection  is  not  imperative  for  their 
perpetuation.  These  marginal  agrarian  despotisms  tend  to  survive 
even  serious  internal  crises  without  support  from  any  hydraulic  core 
area.  However,  they  are  more  likely  than  are  the  core  areas  to  lose 
their  institutional  identity  under  the  impact  of  external  nonhy- 
draulic  forces. 

Obviously  it  is  enormously  difficult  to  create  an  effective  counter- 
weight to  an  apparatus  government,  which  has  succeeded  in  repress- 
ing, crippling,  and  fragmenting  those  proprietary,  military,  and 
ideological  forces  that  enabled  Medieval  (feudal)  Europe  to  evolve 
into  an  industrial  society.  Serious  political  crises  occurred  in  all 
hydraulic  societies.  But  the  way  in  which  the  men  of  the  apparatus 
overcame  them  demonstrates  the  staying  power  of  their  methods  of 
organization  and  exploitation.  Purposeful  political  activists  strove 
to  reestablish  the  only  thoroughly  tested  type  of  government,  which, 
at  the  same  time,  promised  them  total  power  and  total  privilege.  And 
their  restorative  endeavors  were  greatly  facilitated  by  the  political  and 
organizational  ineptitude  of  their  nongovernmental  rivals.  Among 
the  big  landowners,  even  if  they  were  many,  politically  ambitious 
elements  were  much  more  eager  to  seize  than  to  restrict  total  power. 
And  the  representatives  of  mobile  (capitalist)  property,  even  if  they 
were  many,  were  so  unaccustomed  to  think  in  terms  of  property- 
based  state  power  that  they  were  satisfied  to  get  on  with  their  busi- 
ness without  making  the  bid  for  political  leadership  that  was  so 
characteristic  of  the  differently  conditioned  bourgeoisie  of  the  West 

Subjected  to  the  impact  of  strong  external  nonhydraulic  forces,  the 
hydraulic  periphery  is  manifestly  more  brittle  than  the  hydraulic 
core  area.  Invaded  by  nomadic  tribes,  hydraulic  North  China  at  times 
split  into  several  territorial  units;  but  even  when  the  conquering 
"barbarians"  became  the  rulers,  these  regions  maintained  their  tradi- 
tional agrodespotic  power  structure.  In  contrast,  the  marginal  hy- 
draulic society  of  Western  Rome  collapsed  under  tribal  attacks,  and 
non-Oriental  forms  of  government  and  society  emerged.  Also,  in 
contemplating  the  fate  of  Late  Byzantium,  it  seems  legitimate  to 
suggest  that  a  more  intensely  managerial  (hydraulic)  order  would 
have  survived  the  Latin  conquest  without  yielding  to  the  proprietary 
elements  within  its  borders  to  the  point  of  paralysis.  Recent  Russia 

CHAPTER    6,    D  195 

offers  a  particularly  illuminating  example.  Shaken  but  not  subdued 
by  aggression  from  the  outside,  the  Tsarist  bureaucracy  permitted 
the  spread  of  Western  ideas,  the  growth  of  private  enterprises,  and 
the  establishment  of  anti-autocratic  groups  and  parties,  which,  in 
1917,  temporarily  changed  Russia  from  a  single-centered  to  a  multi- 
centered  society.* 


1.  The  Phenomenon 

The  effective  coordination  of  absolutist  methods  of  organization  and 
acquisition  is  the  minimum  requirement  for  the  maintenance  of  a 
genuine  agrarian  despotism.  Outside  this  margin  we  find  civiliza- 
tions that,  although  lacking  such  a  combination,  exhibit  stray  features 
of  hydraulic  statecraft.  The  areas  in  which  such  stray  features  occur 
in  other  societal  orders  constitute  the  submarginal  zone  of  the 
hydraulic  world. 

2.  Cases 

a.  Protohistorical  Greece 

An  institutional  analyst  of  protohistorical  Greece  cannot  fail  to  be 
struck  by  the  hydraulic  quality  of  Minoan  Crete.  This  civilization 
certainly  owed  its  international  prominence  to  its  maritime  relations; 
but  while  acknowledging  this,  we  must  not  forget  that  nearness  to 
the  sea  alone  explains  little.  The  ancient  Cretans,  like  other  seafaring 
peoples,  established  their  thalassocracy  on  the  basis  of  specific  in- 
ternal conditions. 

To  what  extent  Aegean  patterns  of  "fetching  water  by  artificial 
means"  and  of  using  canals  and  ditches  for  the  purposes  of  refined 
agriculture x  made  Minoan  society  hydraulic  is  not  clear.  It  is  clear, 
however,  that  the  islanders  accomplished  miracles  regarding  matters 
of  drainage  and  probably  also  of  water  supply.2  We  do  know  that 
Crete  was  covered  with  a  network  of  excellent  roads.8  And  we  have 
reason  to  believe  that  the  supervisor  of  public  works  occupied  a 
high  position  *  in  the  country's  complex  and  centralized  adminis- 
tration.5 The  Minoan  script  is  still  undeciphered,  but  the  govern- 
ment certainly  employed  it  widely  for  "bureaucratic  methods  of 

p.  For  a  fuller  discussion  of  this  phenomenon  see  below,  Chap.  10. 

196  CORE,    MARGIN,    AND    SUBMARG1N 

registration  and  accounting  which  were  handed  down  from  century 
to  century  and  were  perfected  in  the  process."  G 

These  and  other  facts  support  the  view  that  "the  Minoan  civiliza- 
tion was  essentially  non-European."  7  And  although  the  Minoans 
had  too  many  cultural  peculiarities  to  be  called  "part  of  the  East,"  8 
they  were  connected  through  "a  few  clear  and  even  close  bonds  with 
Asia  Minor,  Syria  and  Egypt."  9  Ehrenberg  concludes  that  "in  partic- 
ular the  sultan-like  life  of  the  kings  of  Cnossus  and  Phaestus,  their 
courts,  their  officials,  their  economy,  displayed  features  which  were 
similar  to  those  of  their  opposite  numbers  in  the  Near  East;  they 
were  equally  unlike  anything  Western."  10 

The  proto-Greek  Mycenaean  civilization,  which  rose  when  Minoan 
power  decayed,  accounts  for  significant  quasihydraulic  developments 
in  Argolis  and  Boeotia,  and  probably  also  in  other  parts  of  eastern 
Greece.  Between  the  middle  and  the  close  of  the  second  millennium 
b.c.  Mycenaean  engineers  executed  great  drainage  works  around  the 
Lake  of  Copais  in  Boeotia;  and  they  covered  Argolis  with  an  elab- 
orate network  of  roads.11  Their  rulers  lived  in  huge  castle-like 
edifices,  and  they  erected  monumental  tombs.12  Bengtson  compares 
their  constructional  achievements  to  "the  great  creations  of  the 
ancient  Orient,  the  pyramids  and  the  ziqqurats."  13  True,  we  hear 
nothing  of  a  bureaucracy,  and  the  use  of  the  early  script  seems  to 
have  been  restricted.14  But  despite  such  limitations,  Bengtson  be- 
lieves that  "only  a  strong  central  power  could  plan  and  execute  these 
works,"  which,  considering  their  magnitude,  in  all  probability  re- 
quired the  services  of  both  native  corvee  laborers  and  captured 

Moreover,  an  Oriental  origin  has  been  suggested  for  the  worship 
of  the  earth  gods  and  the  stars  which  the  historical  Greeks  inherited 
from  their  Mycenaean  ancestors,  and  it  was  indeed  in  connection 
with  such  religious  observances  that  they  practiced  prostration.15 
But  when  the  Greeks  of  the  classical  period  refused  to  perform  before 
an  Oriental  despot  the  act  of  submission  they  considered  appropriate 
to  the  gods,16  they  demonstrated  that  even  if  Mycenaean  Greece  was 
marginally  hydraulic,  post-Mycenaean  Greece  belonged  to  the  sub- 
marginal  zone  of  the  hydraulic  world.  In  the  classical  period  also 
the  monumental  edifices  of  Argolis  1T  had  long  lost  their  significance; 
and  the  grandiose  temple  city  of  Athens,  the  Acropolis,  whose  be- 
ginnings go  back  to  Mycenaean  times,18  was  administered  by  a  gov- 
ernment that  delegated  even  the  management  of  its  public  works  to 
private  entrepreneurs.19 

a.  Bengtson,  1950:  41.  Bengtson  mentions  the  slaves  before  he  mentions  the  native 
corvee  laborers,  but  he  calls  the  latter  as  numerous  as  the  former. 

CHAPTER    6,    D  197 

b.  Early  Rome 

Prior  to  Roman  times  the  Etruscans,  who  apparently  came  from 
the  marginal  hydraulic  zone  of  Asia  Minor,20  are  known  to  have 
engaged  in  stupendous  building  activities.  Their  waterworks  in  the 
Po  Plain  are  impressive,21  and  others  undertaken  in  Central  Italy 
are  equally  worthy  of  attention.22  While  under  Etruscan  dominion, 
the  Romans  learned  how  to  construct  "monumental  works."  23  Later, 
but  before  they  established  their  first  colony  on  Hellenistic  ground, 
they  began  to  build  solid  overland  roads.24  But  although  such  de- 
velopments are  more  characteristic  of  a  hydraulic  than  a  relatively 
simple  rainfall-based  agrarian  order,  Rome  at  this  period  manifestly 
was  an  aristocratic  variant  of  a  multicentered  non-Oriental  society. 

c.  Japan 

In  ancient  Greece  and  Rome  Oriental  elements  have  often  been 
overlooked.  In  Japan  they  have  frequently  been  overestimated,  and 
this  for  a  good  reason.  Japan  is  part  of  the  Asian  continent,  and 
Japanese  civilization  shares  important  features  with  China  and  India. 
Furthermore,  the  Japanese  have  developed  one  of  the  most  subtle 
systems  of  irrigation  farming  known  to  man.  Nevertheless,  Japanese 
society  never  was  hydraulic  in  the  terms  of  our  inquiry. 

Why  did  Japan's  rice  economy  not  depend  on  large  and  govern- 
ment-directed water  works?  Any  competent  economic  geographer 
can  answer  this  question.  The  peculiarities  of  the  country's  water 
supply  neither  necessitated  nor  favored  substantial  government- 
directed  works.  Innumerable  mountain  ranges  compartmentalized 
the  great  Far  Eastern  islands;  and  their  broken  relief  encouraged  a 
fragmented  (hydroagricultural)  rather  than  a  coordinated  (hydraulic) 
pattern  of  irrigation  farming  and  flood  control.  According  to  the  in- 
stitutional historian,  Asakawa,  the  Japanese  landscape  permitted  "no 
extensive  Bewasserungskultur  as  in  Egypt  and  in  parts  of  western 
Asia  and  China."  2S  Japan's  irrigation  agriculture  was  managed  by 
local  rather  than  by  regional  or  national  leaders;  and  hydraulic 
trends  were  conspicuous  only  on  a  local  scale  and  during  the  first 
phase  of  the  country's  documented  history. 

The  rulers  of  the  dominant  political  center  effected  a  loose  politi- 
cal unification  at  a  rather  early  date,  but  they  were  not  faced  with 
hydraulic  tasks  that  required  the  coordinated  operation  of  large 
corvee  teams.  Nor  were  they  conquered  by  the  forces  of  an  Orientally 
despotic  state.  They  therefore  failed  to  establish  a  comprehensive 
managerial  and  acquisitive  bureaucracy  capable  of  controlling  the 


nongovernmental  forces  of  society  as  did  the  men  of  the  apparatus 
on  the  Chinese  mainland. 

The  attempt  to  establish  a  centralized  and  bureaucratic  despotism 
in  Japan  reached  its  first  spectacular  climax  in  the  Taikwa  Reform 
of  646.  From  the  standpoint  of  our  key  criteria,  its  objectives  can  be 
listed  as  follows: 

I.  Construction 

A.  Hydraulic.  An  edict  of  646  demanded  uniform  proce- 
dures relating  to  dikes  and  canals.26 

B.  Nonhydraulic.  The  basic  reform  edict  ordered  the 
creation  of  a  system  of  roads  for  the  imperial  post. 

II.  Organization 

A.  The  population  was  to  be  counted  periodically  and 
census  registers  were  to  be  kept. 

B.  A  government  corvee  replaced  older  local  (and  quasi- 
feudal)  obligations. 

C.  A  state  post  was  to  be  operated. 
III.  Acquisition 

A.  The  peasants  were  to  be  taxed  on  the  basis  of  the  land 
which  the  government  assigned  to  them. 

B.  Service  in  the  state  corvee  could  be  commuted  by  the 
payment  of  a  tax.27 

C.  A  number  of  officials,  particularly  local  and  high- 
ranking  dignitaries,  were  to  be  supported  from  land 
holdings,  which  had  often  been  previously  owned  by  the 
new  appointees  and  which  were  tax  exempt. 

Compared  with  the  Merovingian  and  Carolingian  attempts  at  ab- 
solute rule,  the  Japanese  program  of  646  was  much  more  Oriental. 
This  fact  cannot  be  explained  by  Japanese  contact  with  T'ang  China 
alone.  For  centuries  the  Japanese  had  practiced  irrigation  farming 28 
and  their  rulers  had  engaged  in  constructing  works  of  a  non- 
hydraulic  type.  Thus  the  effort  of  the  masters  of  the  Reform  govern- 
ment to  do  as  the  Chinese  emperors  did  was  rooted  in  indigenous 
trends  that  were  definitely,  if  rudimentarily,  hydraulic. 

But  these  quasi-Oriental  trends  were  unable  to  shape  Japanese 
society.  The  hydraulic  innovations  suggested  in  the  Reform  lacked 
the  dynamism  that  characterized  similar  attempts  in  early  hydraulic 
societies.  The  Reform  favored  the  execution  of  "public  works"; 
but  while  three  of  the  six  T'ang  ministries  (taxation,  war,  and 
justice)  were  taken  over  with  little  modification  and  two  others 
(administrative  personnel  and  rites)  were  successfully  modified,  the 

CHAPTER    6,    D  199 

sixth  (the  Board  of  Public  Works)  found  no  counterpart  in  the 
new  Japanese  set-up.29 

This  omission  was  no  accident.  A  canal  that  was  dug  in  656  struck 
the  people  as  "mad";  and  its  critics  compared  it  with  a  useless  colossal 
hill  that  was  built  at  the  same  time.30  Moreover,  the  decrees  that 
proclaimed  a  universal  state  labor  service  required  many  less  days 
of  corvee  work  than  did  T'ang  regulations.  And  the  provisions  for 
commuting  the  corvee  by  paying  a  tax  showed  the  Japanese  govern- 
ment more  interested  in  revenue  than  in  labor.31 

The  assignment  (and/or  reassignment)  of  tax-free  land  to  im- 
portant officials  was  perhaps  the  Reform  government's  greatest  con- 
cession to  the  feudal  forces  of  Japanese  society.  Behind  the  new 
bureaucratic  facade  a  fierce  fight  was  being  made  to  extend  and 
consolidate  tax-free  land.  And  so  successful  were  the  representatives 
of  the  centrifugal  forces  that  the  official  grantees  eventually  estab- 
lished themselves  as  hereditary  landowners  who,  like  their  European 
counterparts,  introduced  a  single-heir  system  of  succession.32 

As  the  system  of  tenure  changed,  universal  census  taking  collapsed; 
and  attempts  to  reestablish  it  led  nowhere.33  General  taxation  met 
the  same  fate.  Many  elements  of  Chinese  culture  notwithstanding, 
the  decentralized  and  property-based  society  of  the  Japanese  Middle 
Ages  resembled  much  more  closely  the  feudal  order  of  the  remote 
European  world  than  the  hydraulic  patterns  of  nearby  China.  The 
poets  of  feudal  Japan,  like  their  confreres  in  feudal  Europe,  glorified 
the  heroic  deeds  of  individual  warriors  or  groups  of  warriors.  But 
the  loosely  agglomerated  armies  of  Medieval  Japan  did  not  stimulate 
tactical  or  strategic  thinking.  The  Japanese  writers  of  the  period 
quoted  Chinese  military  authorities,  such  as  Sun  Tzu;  but  feudal 
Japan,  like  feudal  Europe,  failed  to  develop  the  art  of  war.6  Prior  to 
1543,  the  Japanese  armies  "were  made  up  of  small,  independent 
bands  of  soldiers  who  fought  more  as  individuals  than  as  units  of  a 
tactical  formation."  " 

b.  The  reader  will  remember  that  the  term  "art  of  war"  connotes  the  practice  and 
theory  of  strategy  and  tactics.  A  recent  survey  of  ancient  and  medieval  military  or- 
ganization ascribes  "the  beginnings  of  an  acknowledged  art  of  war"  in  postfeudal 
Europe  to  Maurice  of  Nassau  (Atkinson,  1910:  599),  who  played  a  decisive  role  in  the 
latter  part  of  the  Dutch  War  of  Independence. 

c.  Brown,  1948:  236  if.  A  collection  of  early  Japanese  texts,  Gunsho  Ruiju,  contains 
many  references  to  Sun  Tzu  and  other  military  theoreticians  of  his  period.  But  the 
Japanese  treatment  of  warfare  is  "a  rather  scattered  melange  quite  unlike  Sun  Tzu. 
.  .  .  The  first  integrated  treatment  of  the  subject  comes  in  a  work  by  Takeda  Shingen 
(1521-1573)"  (from  a  letter  of  February  16,  1954,  from  Dr.  Marius  Jansen,  University  of 
Washington,  Seattle,  who  established  this  point  in  collaboration  with  his  colleague, 
Dr.  Richard  N.  McKinnon) 


The  absolutist  concentration  of  government  power,  which  char- 
acterized the  Tokugawa  period  (1603-1867),  again  resembled  more 
closely  Western  absolutist  developments,  both  in  its  economic  aspect 
(the  slow  rise  of  property-based  commercial  and  industrial  capi- 
talism) and  in  its  political  limitations.  It  was  during  this  period — 
actually  in  1726 — that  "the  first  tolerably  exact  census"  was  taken.34 
It  was  then  that  the  road  system  spread  vigorously;  35  and  it  was 
then  that  the  government,  like  certain  of  the  prominent  feudal  lords, 
dug  a  number  of  locally  important  canals.36 

But  despite  these  and  other  activities — which,  except  for  the  irri- 
gation works,  find  illuminating  parallels  in  absolutist  Europe — the 
absolutist  regime  of  Japan  was  not  strong  enough  to  establish  its 
acquisitive  power  over  the  whole  empire.  Out  of  a  national  revenue 
of  twenty-eight  or  twenty-nine  million  koku,  the  representatives  of 
supreme  power,  the  Tokugawa  shoguns  and  the  court,  arrogated  to 
themselves  only  about  eight  million  koku,  while  by  far  the  larger 
part  of  the  revenue  remained  in  the  hands  of  great  feudal  vassals.37 
Japanese  absolutism  sharply  restricted  the  power  of  the  feudal  lords. 
But  until  1867  it  was  unable  to  eliminate  them. 

While  stressing  the  similarities  between  traditional  Japanese 
society  and  the  feudal  and  postfeudal  West,  we  must  be  careful  not 
to  oversimplify  the  picture.  The  Oriental  quality  of  many  Japanese 
institutions  and  ideas  is  beyond  doubt.  On  the  lower  and  local  level, 
Japanese  irrigation  agriculture  required  quasihydraulic  coordina- 
tion and  subordination;  and  the  feudal  lords'  insistence  upon  ab- 
solute obedience  may,  at  least  in  part,  reflect  such  quasihydraulic 
relations.  Rudiments  of  a  postal  system  seem  to  have  existed  prior 
to  the  Tokugawa  period;  38  and  the  symbol  of  total  submission, 
prostration,  persisted  until  modern  times.4*  The  members  of  the 
ruling  group,  although  strongly  imbued  with  a  military  spirit,  con- 
tinued to  think  in  terms  of  a  somewhat  adjusted  Confucianism;  S9 
and  although  they  invented  simplified  phonetic  symbols,  they  em- 
ployed with  genuine  pride  the  Chinese  script,  which,  like  Con- 
fucius' conception  of  the  gentleman-bureaucrat,  was  better  suited  to 
a  civil  and  learned  officialdom  than  to  a  war-minded  knighthood. 

To  sum  up:  traditional  Japan  was  more  than  Western  feudalism 
with  wet  feet.  While  the  Far  Eastern  island  society  gave  birth  to  a 
property-based  and  genuinely  feudal  order,  its  many  and  cherished 
elements  of  Chinese  policy  and  thought  show  that,  in  a  submarginal 
way,  it  was  related  to  the  institutional  patterns  of  the  hydraulic 

d.  During  my  stay  in  Japan  in  1935  a  number  of  university  professors  greeted  each 
other  in  my  presence — and  prior  to  an  official  banquet — by  prostration. 

CHAPTER    6,    D  201 

d.  Pre-Mongol  (Kievan)  Russia 

Russian  society  prior  to  the  Mongol  conquest  (1237-40)  presents 
another  and  equally  illuminating  aspect  of  the  hydraulic  submargin. 
In  pre-Kievan  and  Kievan  days  the  subsistence  economy  of  the  "Rus" 
included  stock-raising;  e  but  its  mainstay  was  agriculture,  rainfall 
agriculture.40  Under  the  conditions  of  a  primarily  natural  economy 
this  agriculture  favored  the  development  of  a  broadly  spread  landed 
nobility,  which  was  subordinated  to  the  territorial  princes  in  a  loose 
way/  Below  this  stratum,  but  above  the  slave-like  kholopi*1  a  class 
of  free  cultivators  moved  with  comparative  ease;  42  and  the  towns- 
people were  even  less  restricted.  Their  "council,"  the  veche,  could 
take  independent  political  action  not  only  in  the  great  northern 
republic  of  Novgorod  43  but  also  in  such  capital  cities  as  Vladimer,44 
and  even  in  Kiev.45  Prior  to  the  establishment  of  the  Kievan  state 
(ca.  880)  °  legal  transactions  could  be  consummated,  and  without  in- 
terference from  any  princely  authority,  by  the  heads  of  the  rural — 
and  urban — communities,  which  in  the  most  ancient  Russian  law 
code  extant  are  called  mir.n  And  even  in  the  Kievan  era  (ca.  880- 
1169),  the  government,  although  considerably  stronger  than  pre- 
viously, was  far  from  being  absolutist — indeed  as  far  from  such  a 
condition  as  the  government  of  any  feudal  state  in  the  contemporary 
West.  Institutionally  speaking,  Kievan  society  manifestly  belonged 
to  the  protofeudal  and  feudal  world  of  Europe. 

It  belonged  to  this  world,  but  in  a  way  that  requires  special 
investigation.  Like  hydraulic  society,  feudal  society,  too,  has  an 
institutional  margin;  and  Russia's  tribal  civilization,  which  arose 
on  the  eastern  periphery  of  the  feudal  world,  was  for  centuries,  and 
particularly  after  88o,4C  dominated  by  the  Varangians,47  who  were 
rooted  in — and  repeatedly  supported  by — a  northern  fringe  area: 
Scandinavia.  But  although  Rurik  had  once  received  a  fief  from 
the  Frankish  emperor,48  he  did  not  impose  the  Western  European 
system  of  land  tenure  on  the  Eastern  Slavs.  Nor  did  his  successors. 

e.  The  oldest  known  version  of  the  Russian  law,  Russkaya  Pravda,  mentions  crimes 
pertaining  to  oxen,  sheep,  goats,  horses,  calves,  and  lambs  (Goetz,  RR,  I:  15  ff.). 

/.  This  fact  has  been  established  through  the  pioneer  investigations  of  Pavlo- 
Silvansky.  For  a  survey  of  his  major  conclusions  see  Borosdin,  1908:  577.  For  an  inde- 
pendent study  arriving  at  similar  conclusions  for  the  early  Russian  society  see  Hotzsch, 
1912:  544. 

g.  Vernadsky  (1943:  368)  places  Oleg's  conquest  of  Kiev  "between  a.d.  878  and  880 
(tentatively,  878)." 

h.  Russkaya  Pravda,  I,  17  =  Goetz,  RR,  I:  8,  9.  Cf.  Vernadsky,  1948:  134.  In  the 
third  version  of  the  Law,  the  early  term,  tnir,  is  replaced  by  gorod,  city  (Russkaya 
Pravda,  III:  40  =  Goetz,  RR,  I:  28,  29,  cf.  272  ff.). 


The  native  nobles  and  the  members  of  the  princely  retinue,  the 
druzhina,  operated  under  no  feudal  contract.49  Their  freedom  to 
"ride  away"  60  indicates  a  type  of  independence  that  in  Western 
feudalism  was  more  the  exception  than  the  rule.61  On  the  other 
hand,  the  princely  rulers  of  the  various  territorial  states  drew  their 
maintenance  not  from  royal  domains,  as  was  usual  in  most  feudal 
countries,  but  from  a  general  tax,  custom  fees,  and  legal  fines.62 

Thus  Kievan  society  resembled  the  feudal  order  of  the  West  in 
that  the  rulers  shared  the  power  of  making  political  decisions  "with 
the  popular  assembly  (veche)  and  the  senate  (boyarskaya  duma)"; 63 
and  the  nobles  were  able  to  establish  a  form  of  absolute  landowner- 
ship  that  the  lords  of  Western  Europe  matched  only  at  the  close  of 
the  Middle  Ages.  As  in  the  feudal  West,  the  cities — at  least  the  large 
ones — and  the  nobles  paid  no  taxes.64  But  this  extremely  loose  ar- 
rangement interlocked  with  a  fiscal  system  that  permitted  the  sover- 
eign to  tax  the  entire  rural  population.  The  principle  of  levying  a 
tax  on  each  fireplace  was  employed  in  Byzantium;  65  and  the  semi- 
pastoral  Khazars  applied  it  to  those  Eastern  Slavs  over  whom,  prior 
to  the  victory  of  the  Varangians,  they  had  control.  The  Varangians 
followed  the  fiscal  procedure  of  the  Khazars,66  and  they  continued  to 
do  so  with  modifications  during  the  whole  Kievan  period.67  They 
also  adopted  other  "Asiatic"  features  from  the  Khazars  or  related 
tribes.  For  a  time  their  rulers  referred  to  themselves  as  "khagans";  * 
and  prior  to  the  introduction  of  Christianity  they  apparently  kept 
their  numerous  concubines  in  harem-like  confinement.* 

Direct  Byzantine  influence  made  itself  felt  relatively  early.  In 
addition  to  many  literary  and  artistic  elements,  the  Russians  adopted 
Eastern  Christianity  and  Byzantine  law,  both  of  which  affected  the 
political  climate  of  Kiev.  The  Byzantine  ("Greek")  priests,  who 
came  to  Russia,  carried  with  them  significant  ideas  of  theocratic 
rule  and  subordination.  Accustomed  to  act  as  part  rather  than  as 
rivals  of  the  secular  government,  they  certainly  enhanced  the  power 
of  the  prince.*  The  introduction  of  Byzantine  law  further  strength- 

i.  Vernadsky  (1943:  282)  assumes  borrowing  from  the  Khazars.  The  title  khaghan  was 
borne  by  "the  first  Kievan  princes."  Apart  from  Vladimir,  his  son  Yaroslav  is  also 
known  to  have  been  thus  addressed  by  the  Metropolitan  Hilarion  (ibid.:  370,  and  n. 

;'.  Prior  to  his  conversion,  Vladimir  is  said  to  have  had  about  800  concubines 
(Nestor,  1931:  55). 

k.  This  fact  has  been  stressed  by  a  number  of  historians.  Platonov  points  out  that 
the  "Christian  and  Byzantine  conception  of  the  prince  as  a  ruler  by  divine  right  .  .  . 
was  opposed  to  the  pagan  view  that  the  prince  was  a  mere  leader  of  a  druzhina,  and 
could  be  driven  out  and  killed"  (Platonov,  1925:  40).  The  Soviet  academician  Grekov 
quotes  fully  the  pertinent  statement  in  the  Nestor  Chronicle:  "God  gives  the  power  to 

CHAPTER    6,    D  203 

ened  the  Kievan  sovereigns.  In  the  second  Constantinople-influenced 
version  of  the  Russian  law  the  ruler  and  his  functionaries  emerge 
clearly  as  the  possessors  of  supreme  judicial  authority.68 

But  Kievan  society  did  not  accept  the  legal  notions  of  the  great 
Eastern  empire  in  toto.  The  Byzantine  code  prescribed  corporal 
punishment  for  horse  stealing;  but  the  revised  Russian  law  continued 
to  demand  a  fine  for  this  act.59  Despite  its  great  prestige,  Byzantine 
law  did  not  supersede  the  Kievan  view  that  a  free  man  should  not 
be  beaten. 

3.  Comment 

Evidently,  the  civilizations  in  the  submargin  of  hydraulic  society 
exhibit  a  wide  institutional  range;  and  their  basic  structures  can 
be  understood  only  if  they  are  viewed  first  in  their  primary  institu- 
tional context.  However,  certain  secondary  qualities,  which  link  them 
to  the  hydraulic  world,  must  not  be  overlooked: 

1)  A  civilization  that  was  once  part  of  this  world  may,  in  a  later 
nonhydraulic  phase,  still  preserve  certain  traces  of  its  previous  con- 
dition, which,  although  not  necessary  to  the  new  configuration,  are 
compatible  with  it.  Post-Mycenaean  Greece  probably  belongs  to  this 

2)  The  voluntary  adoption  of  desirable  "Oriental"  features  ac- 
counts for  such  phenomena  as  Taikwa  Japan  and  Kievan  Russia. 

Another  point  that  is  valid  for  marginal  hydraulic  societies  is 
also  valid  for  the  submargin.  It  would  be  incorrect  to  view  as  sub- 
marginally  hydraulic  an  agrarian  society  which  exhibits  certain 
despotic  features  of  organization  and  acquisition  but  which  has  no 
known  link  to  the  hydraulic  world.  Individual  features  of  hydraulic 
statecraft,  such  as  the  levying  of  a  general  tax  or  the  collection  of  a 
general  tribute,  certainly  have  emerged  in  civilizations  which  had 
little  or  no  contact  with  this  world.  In  a  number  of  tribal  societies 
this  obviously  happened;  and  if  we  did  not  know  of  the  Asiatic 
background  of  the  Khazars,  we  might  also  feel  tempted  to  place 
their  system  of  tribute  gathering  in  this  independent  and  residual 
category.  Comparative  analysis  must  in  each  instance  decide  whether 
we  are  dealing  with  submarginally  hydraulic  or  independent  trends. 

whomever  he  wishes;  the  Supreme  Being  appoints  whomever  he  desires  as  the  caesar 
or  prince."  Each  state  should  be  headed  by  a  caesar  or  prince,  and  state  power  is  of 
divine  origin — these  are  indeed  "the  familiar  features  of  the  Byzantine  conception 
of  state  power."  Grekov  underlines  the  authoritarian  spirit  of  the  famous  Christian 
chronicle:  "Anyone  who  attacked  the  authority — according  to  the  theory — opposed 
God."  And  "Yaroslav's  merit  lies  in  the  restoration  of  a  single  authority  in  the  state" 
(Grekov,  1947:  133  ft.)- 



The  submarginal  zone  of  the  hydraulic  world  cannot  be  explained 
by  a  simple  formula.  Nor  is  it  necessarily  self-perpetuating.  A  num- 
ber of  historically  prominent  civilizations  of  the  submargin  have 
crossed  the  institutional  divide  and  become  either  marginal  hydrau- 
lic societies  or  hydraulic  societies  proper.  Others  have  moved  in  the 
opposite  direction. 

The  civilizations  discussed  so  far  have  been  essentially  agrarian. 
The  very  concept  of  a  hydraulic  economy  implies  agriculture.  But 
the  history  of  the  Ch'i-tan,  the  Mongols,  and  other  tribal  conquerors 
demonstrates  that  Oriental  despotism  is  not  confined  to  agrarian 
societies.  Nonagricultural  peoples,  too,  may  adopt  and  transmit 
techniques  of  despotic  government;  and  they  may  "Orientalize"  non- 
agricultural  as  well  as  agricultural  groups.  The  importance  of  this 
fact  for  the  understanding  of  many  despotic  conquest  societies  and 
of  the  dynamics  of  the  institutional  divide  is  obvious. 

1.  Nonagricultural  Peoples  Adopting  and  Transmit- 
ting Power  Devices  of  Agrarian  Despotism 

Representatives  of  many  extractive  modes  of  subsistence — 
gathering,  hunting,  and  fishing — have  lived  at  the  fringe  of  the  hy- 
draulic world.  In  this  respect,  the  margin  of  Pueblo  society  x  and 
the  early  phases  of  Aztec  history  are  instructive.  But  no  primitive 
nonagricultural  group  has  played  as  important  a  role  as  the  pas- 
toralists.  The  New  World  lacked  animals  suitable  for  drawing  carts 
and  carrying  men.  The  Old  World  had  several  species  that  could  be 
so  used.  Their  domestication  greatly  benefited  the  plant  breeders; 
but  primarily  it  benefited  the  pastoralists,  who,  after  the  invention  of 
riding,  became  the  military  equals,  and  at  times  the  masters,  of  large 
and  wealthy  agrarian  commonwealths.2 

a.   Such   Devices  Not  Necessary   for,    but    Compatible   with, 
Nomadic  Pastoralism 

Pastoral  nomads  frequently  supplement  their  herding  economy 
by  farming.3  Yet  the  need  to  move  their  herds  prevents  them  from 
giving  more  than  casual  attention  to  whatever  crops  they  plant  near 
their  camping  grounds.  Their  migratory  way  of  life,  however  well 
regulated,  excludes  the  construction  of  elaborate  and  permanent 
works  of  water  control,  which  form  the  foundation  of  hydraulic 

CHAPTER    6,    E  205 

But  this  mode  of  life  does  not  prevent  them  from  adopting 
Orientally  despotic  methods  of  organization  and  acquisition.  To  be 
sure,  such  methods  do  not  grow  out  of  the  needs  of  pastoral  life. 
Although  some  coordination  and  subordination  are  imperative  for 
effective  camping  and  trekking,  and  although  disciplined  procedure 
is  highly  advantageous  for  hunting  and  warfare,*  these  practices  do 
not  necessarily  lead  to  the  establishment  of  a  political  apparatus 
stronger  than  all  nongovernmental  forces  of  society.  Technical 
factors  (the  ever-recurring  need  for  dispersing  herds  and  men)  and 
social  factors  (the  resistance  of  the  free  tribesmen  to  the  demand 
for  total  submission)  work  in  the  opposite  direction.  Even  subordina- 
tion under  a  strong  military  leader  is  essentially  voluntary.  Limited 
in  time  and  not  bulwarked  by  irreversible  organizational  arrange- 
ments, it  rarely,  if  ever,  destroys  the  loose  and  fluid  character  of  the 
tribal  society.6 

The  chiefly  leader  and  those  close  to  him  are  eager  to  place 
themselves  in  a  position  of  permanent  and  total  power;  but  as  a  rule 
they  attain  this  goal  only  after  submission  to,  or  conquest  of,  a 
hydraulic  country.  In  the  first  case  the  overlords  of  the  agrarian 
state  may  apply  their  own  patterns  of  political  control  (registration, 
corvee,  taxation)  to  the  submitting  herders,  whose  chieftain  usually 
emerges  as  the  absolute  and  permanent  master  of  his  tribe.  In  the 
second  case  the  supreme  chieftain  (khan,  khaghan,  etc.)  seizes  the 
power  devices  of  the  agromanagerial  civilizations  he  has  conquered. 
Bulwarked  by  indigenous  officials  who  maintain  the  traditional  ad- 
ministration and  by  a  group  of  tribal  followers  whose  number  grows 
with  his  successes,  he  reduces  his  noble  rivals  to  a  shadow  of  their 
former  importance,  if  he  does  not  annihilate  them  altogether. 

In  both  cases  the  tribesmen  may  lose  their  cultural — and  eventually 
also  their  sociopolitical — identity.  This  happened  to  many  Arab 
groups  under  the  Abbassid  caliphate.  In  such  a  situation  the  prob- 
lem itself  ceases  to  exist.  However,  submitting  tribesmen  are  usually 
not  eager  to  relinquish  their  old  way  of  life;  nor  are  tribal  con- 
querors as  easily  absorbed  as  legend  has  it.6  With  proper  modifica- 
tions, the  tribal  masters  of  a  compound  hydraulic  empire  may  main- 
tain their  social  and  cultural  identity;  and  while  doing  so,  they  may 
impose  their  newly  acquired  power  techniques  to  outlying  nonhy- 
draulic  countries.  This  happened  when  the  Mongols,  after  the  con- 
quest of  North  China,  subdued  Russia. 

The  disintegration  of  a  compound  hydraulic  empire  may  again 
make  all  or  some  of  its  tribal  elements  autonomous;  and  it  is  at  this 
moment  that  the  perpetuation  of  despotic  power,  under  conditions 
of  tribal  pastoralism,  is  put  to  the  test.  At  times  the  despotic  regime 


dissolves  as  completely  as  the  empire  of  which  it  was  a  part.  But 
historical  experience  shows  that  the  beneficiaries  of  absolutist  gov- 
ernment continued  in  a  privileged  position,  at  least  to  some  extent 
and  for  some  time.  Obviously  then,  despotic  methods  of  organization 
and  acquisition,  although  not  a  necessary  adjunct  of  nomadic  pas- 
toralism,  are  definitely  compatible  with  it. 

b.  The  Brittleness  of  Orientally  Despotic  Power  at  the 
Pastoral  Fringe  of  the  Hydraulic  World 

Recent  studies  have  provided  a  wealth  of  data  concerning  all  these 
processes  for  the  Ch'i-tan  tribes,  who,  as  Liao  rulers,  were  the 
temporary  masters  of  the  northeastern  fringe  of  China.  Many  mono- 
graphs have  clarified  corresponding  aspects  of  Mongol  history;  and 
future  investigations  of  the  tribal  conquest  societies  of  the  Near 
East,  of  Persia,  India,  and  pre-Spanish  America  will  certainly  bring 
to  light  many  other  varieties  of  this  important  institutional  con- 

Already  our  present  knowledge  enables  us  to  juxtapose  the  pastoral 
and  the  agrarian  forms  of  a  marginal  hydraulic  society.  Without 
doubt,  the  staying  power  of  genuine  despotism  is  much  greater 
under  agricultural  than  under  tribal,  pastoral,  or  nomadic  condi- 
tions. The  fluidity  of  a  steppe  economy  encourages  diffusion  and 
separation  and,  as  a  corollary,  the  growth  of  independent  centers  of 
animal  wealth  and  military  power.  Natural  calamities  or  serious 
military  reverses  weaken  and  dissolve  a  pastoral  despotism  as  quickly 
as  the  fortunes  of  war  and  conquest  bring  it  into  being.  The 
meteoric  rise  and  fall  of  many  steppe  empires  in  Inner  and  West 
Asia  and  in  Southeast  Europe  illuminate  the  brittleness  of  pastoral 

The  "Black"  Ch'i-tan  tribes,  who  grazed  their  herds  in  Northern 
Mongolia  a  hundred  years  after  Liao  fell,  revealed  few  traces  of  the 
coordinated  political  order  maintained  by  their  forebears  either  in 
the  Far  East  or  in  Turkestan.7  After  the  collapse  of  the  Great  Khan's 
empire,  Mongol  power  shrank  to  a  shadow  of  its  former  self,  but  it 
did  not  disappear  altogether.  In  1640  the  Mongol-Oirat  were  still 
restrained  by  laws  which,  although  considerably  milder  than  Chingis 
Khan's  Yasa*  forced  the  tribesmen  to  participate  in  a  relatively 
heavy  transport  corvee.9  Manifestly,  postempire  Mongol  society  was 
not  entirely  lacking  in  cohesiveness  when  attachment  to  the  rising 
Manchu  star  gave  their  secular  and  religious  masters  a  chance  to  sup- 
port, in  a  privileged  if  secondary  way,  another  ambitious  attempt 

CHAPTER    6,    E  207 

to  establish  a  despotic  regime,  first  in  the  margin  and  later  in  a  great 
core  area  of  the  hydraulic  world. 

2.  Agricultural  Civilizations  Crossing  the 
Institutional  Divide 

The  changeover  of  pastoral  societies  from  a  nonhydraulic  to  a 
hydraulic  order  proceeds,  as  a  rule,  on  a  geographical  as  well  as  on  an 
institutional  level.  In  contrast  to  this,  changing  agrarian  societies  do 
not  change  their  locale.  They  move  from  one  order  to  another  ex- 
clusively on  the  institutional  level. 

A  second  difference  concerns  the  potential  range  of  the  change- 
over. Pastoral  societies,  which  preserve  their  economic  identity,  may 
shift  from  the  submarginal  to  the  marginal  zone  of  the  hydraulic 
world  and  vice  versa.  Agrarian  societies  that  were  originally  sub- 
marginal  may  become  marginal  hydraulic  or  full-fledged  hydraulic 
societies  and  vice  versa. 

Like  pastoral  societies,  agrarian  societies  change  their  institutional 
quality  most  frequently  at  the  geographical  periphery  of  agroman- 
agerial  areas;  for  it  is  here  that  the  forces  of  the  hydraulic  and  the 
nonhydraulic  world  have  wrestled  with  each  other  for  millennia.  The 
societal  transmutations  of  Greece,  Rome,  Spain,  and  Russia  are  all 
part  of  this  gigantic  interaction. 

a.  Greece 

From  a  marginal  or  submarginal  hydraulic  position,  Mycenaean 
Greece  evolved  into  a  civilization  whose  aristocratic  and  democratic 
energies  prevented  the  state  from  exerting  unchecked  control  over 
the  nongovernmental  forces  of  society.  The  Greeks  of  Homer,  Hesiod, 
and  Sophocles  prostrated  before  certain  of  their  gods;  but  they  re- 
fused to  recognize  the  supreme  representative  of  state  power  as  their 
master  (despotes). 

For  many  centuries,  and  despite  their  proximity  to  the  hydraulic 
world,  the  Greek  cities  in  Western  Asia  upheld  within  their  limits 
the  principles  of  a  multicentered  society.  Only  in  the  wake  of  Alex- 
ander's conquests  did  the  old  constitutional  freedoms  begin  to  shrink. 
The  Hellenistic  sovereigns  of  the  Orient  reduced  the  political  inde- 
pendence of  their  own  co-nationals  in  Asia  and  at  home.  Together 
with  their  Macedonian-Greek  aides,  they  readily  donned  the  robes 
of  Orientally  despotic  power. 

The  early  Roman  empire  and  Byzantium  completed  what  the 
Hellenistic  dynasties  had  initiated.  The  Greeks  of  the  Near  East — 


and  those  of  the  motherland — became  part  of  a  hydraulic  empire, 
which  included  impressive  areas  of  loose  (Syria)  and  compact  (Egypt) 
hydraulic  economy.  During  the  7th  century  this  empire  shifted  to 
the  margin  of  the  hydraulic  world.  Later  the  conquering  Turks  re- 
stored it  once  more  to  a  loosely  hydraulic  position. 

The  Byzantine  and  Turkish  Greeks  were  no  longer  the  Hellenes 
of  Hesiod,  Pericles,  and  Aristotle.  This  is  probably  true  ethnically, 
and  it  is  certainly  true  institutionally.  The  scions  of  Mycenae,  who 
during  the  classical  period  and  for  the  free  members  of  their  com- 
munity created  exemplary  models  of  democratic  citizenship,  were 
the  ancestors  of  the  Byzantine  Greeks,  whose  elaborate  court  cere- 
monial made  "Byzantinism"  a  catchword  for  man's  total,  if  ritualized, 
submission  to  total  power. 

b.  Rome 

i.    THE    RISE    OF    A    HELLENISTIC    VERSION    OF 

I  n  Greece  the  shift  to  hydraulic  forms  of  state  and  society  was  initi- 
ated by  Alexander's  conquest.  In  Rome  the  establishment  of  absolute 
and  monarchic  rule  by  Augustus  signals  not  the  beginning  but  a  rela- 
tively advanced  stage  of  a  process  that  had  been  under  way  for  about 
two  hundred  years. 

In  the  institutional  history  of  Rome  the  year  2 1 1  B.C.  is  a  fateful 
date.  It  was  in  this  year  that  in  the  subdued  Sicilian  kingdom  of 
Syracuse  the  Romans  "encountered  for  the  first  time  a  subtly  elabo- 
rate legal  system  of  a  primary  agrarian  state  patterned  after  Egyptian 
and  general  Hellenistic  models."  10  The  victorious  Italian  republic 
made  this  system,  the  so-called  Lex  Hieronica,  "the  basis  for  the 
organization  of  its  first  provincial  economy." xl  By  so  doing,  it 
adopted  a  basic  principle  of  Hellenistic  statecraft,  which  declared  the 
state  the  holder  of  absolute  power  and  the  owner  of  all  land.12 

As  the  successors  of  Hieron,  the  Roman  conquerors  made  their 
state,  the  populus  Romanus,  the  supreme  master  of  Sicily's  agrarian 
economy.  And  they  acted  similarly  also  in  the  other  territories  of 
their  growing  empire.  In  the  regions  of  the  Eastern  Mediterranean 
this  involved  little  change.  But  in  the  western  areas  of  Roman  ex- 
pansion nonhydraulic  conditions  prevailed.  It  is  therefore  extremely 
significant  that  the  Italian  conquerors,  with  proper  modifications, 
transferred  the  Hellenistic  system  "also  to  the  West."  13 

From  the  Roman  point  of  view  the  Hellenistic  principle  of  general 
taxation  was  "a  complete  innovation."  And  this  innovation  was  a 

CHAPTER    6,    E  20g 

success  because  it  was  supplemented  by  a  periodic  and  comprehensive 
census.  According  to  Hieron's  plan,  which  the  Romans  adopted,  "it 
was  the  duty  of  the  city  magistrates  every  year  to  take  a  census  of  all 
the  farmers  of  the  district  .  .  .  recording  both  the  complete  acreage 
.  .  .  and  the  acreage  of  each  crop  actually  under  cultivation."  14 

These  external  developments  did  not  automatically  create  a  state 
stronger  than  society  in  the  Roman  homeland;  but  the  metropolis 
underwent  internal  changes  which  devastatingly  weakened  the  tradi- 
tional aristocratic  republic.  On  the  one  hand,  the  unending  wars  of 
conquest  enriched  the  senatorial  landlords,  who  employed  an  ever- 
increasing  number  of  slaves;  on  the  other  hand,  these  wars  exhausted 
the  peasantry.  Together  with  the  land-hungry  veterans,  the  im- 
poverished peasants  offered  an  ideal  mass  basis  for  the  policies  of  the 
populates  and  of  the  victorious  generals,  who  did  not  hesitate  to 
confiscate  and  redistribute  the  estates  of  their  erstwhile  opponents.15 
The  civil  wars  also  increased  the  vulnerability  of  the  wealthy  busi- 
nessmen, the  equites,  some  of  whom  as  tax  farmers,  publicani,  prof- 
ited greatly  from  the  growth  of  the  Roman  realm.  During  the  ad- 
vancing crisis  the  equites  enjoyed  as  little  personal  and  proprietary 
safety  as  did  the  members  of  the  senatorial  group. 

Evidently,  the  internal  changes  were  so  closely  tied  up  with  the 
country's  territorial  expansion  that  any  attempt  to  explain  the  fall 
of  the  republic  exclusively  on  the  basis  of  either  internal  or  external 
factors  must  prove  inadequate.  The  generals  who  dominated  the 
political  scene,  particularly  in  the  1st  century  b.c,  rose  to  power 
because  of  the  size  and  peculiarity  of  the  territories  they  occupied. 
It  was  in  these  areas  that  they  secured  their  material  support;  and 
it  was  in  these  areas  that  they  tested  the  effectiveness  of  Hellenistic 
methods  of  government. 

How  much  did  any  single  individual  contribute  to  the  changes 
that  occurred  in  Roman  society?  For  the  purpose  of  our  inquiry  it 
is  sufficient  to  note  that  in  Caesar's  time  the  senate  had  already  lost 
both  its  social  homogeneity  and  its  uncontested  political  hegemony 
and  that  Caesar,  who  like  other  great  politician-generals  of  the  period 
gave  land  to  the  veterans,  challenged  the  senatorial  representatives 
of  large  landed  property  as  a  "man  of  the  people,"  a  popularis.  Here, 
as  elsewhere,  absolute  power  was  established  through  the  agency 
of  men  who  used  a  popular  cause  to  advance  their  political  aims. 

At  the  time  of  Caesar's  assassination  the  strongest  proprietary  force 
in  Rome,  the  senatorial  group,  had  been  so  shaken  that  Augustus, 
who  officially  controlled  a  number  of  "imperial"  provinces  (among 
them  the  old  hydraulic  areas  of  Egypt  and  Syria)  was  able  to  control 
the  "senatorial"  provinces  too.16  From  29  b.c.  on,  the  senators,  who 


previously  had  been  the  decisive  force  behind  the  administration, 
had  to  get  a  permit  from  Augustus  before  they  could  leave  Italy; 
and  "if  the  object  of  their  travel  was  a  visit  to  Egypt,  [the  request] 
was  refused  on  principle."  17  During  the  subsequent  period  the  once 
dominant  aristocratic  landowning  senators  were  more  and  more 
replaced  by  persons  who  became  members  of  the  senate  because 
they  were  in  the  emperor's  service.  And  the  representatives  of  mobile 
wealth  and  capitalist  enterprise,  who,  as  publicani,  had  collected 
taxes  and  customs  fees  for  the  government  and,  as  contractors,  had 
executed  certain  "public  works,"  were  plundered  by  Pompey,  weak- 
ened by  Caesar,  and  subordinated  by  Augustus.18  Eventually  they 
lost  their  significance  altogether.19  Thus  the  Roman  metropolis, 
which  temporarily  had  ruled  a  huge  Hellenistically  hydraulic  em- 
pire without  itself  being  hydraulic,0  eventually  caved  in  under  the 
hammer  blows  of  forces  which  drew  their  ultimate  strength  from  this 
very  empire. 

In  this  gigantic  process  of  transformation  Augustus  was  not  only 
the  grave  digger  of  the  old  social  forces,  but  also  the  pioneer  in  ad- 
ministrative and  managerial  change.  Despite  great  loyalty  to  the 
cultural  values  of  Rome,  the  first  emperor  (princeps)  patterned  his 
absolutist  state  not  on  early  Rome  or  classical  Greece — from  which, 
indeed,  he  would  have  gotten  little  inspiration — but  on  the  Hellen- 
istic Orient.6  By  laying  the  foundations  for  a  salaried  officialdom,20 
he  initiated  a  bureaucratic  development  that  rapidly  gained  mo- 
mentum in  the  ist  century  a.d.21 

Agromanagerial  methods  of  acquisition  and  organization  had  al- 
ready been  employed  in  the  provinces  under  the  Republic;  now 
they  were  elaborated  and  systematized.  Confiscations  became  a  stand- 
ard feature  of  the  empire's  economic  and  political  life.  General 
taxation  was  bulwarked  by  the  periodic  registration  of  the  popula- 
tion, which  under  Augustus  became  regular  administrative  proce- 
dure.22 Initiating  the  great  nonhydraulic  constructions  that  are  still 
associated  with  the  name  of  Rome,  Augustus  started  to  build  a  truly 
agromanagerial  system  of  roads.  He  established  the  state  post,  the 

a.  Of  course,  the  Roman  metropolis  was  not  hermetically  sealed  off  from  its  Oriental 
environment.  The  growing  influence  of  Hellenistic  statecraft  was  significantly  accom- 
panied by  the  growing  influence  of  Eastern  religion,  art,  technology,  and  customs.  The 
advance  of  a  Hellenistically  Oriental  culture  and  the  pathetic  attempts  to  resist  it  are 
among  the  most  illuminating  developments  of  the  2d  and  ist  centuries  b.c.  (see  Voigt, 
1893:  passim). 

b.  At  this  time  the  Roman  statesmen  began  "to  look  for  guidance  not  to  Athens  or 
Sparta  but  to  the  Persian  Empire  and  the  Hellenistic  monarchies  which  succeeded  it" 
(Stevenson,  1934:  183). 

CHAPTER    6,    E  211 

cursus  publicus,  and  very  consistently,  he  combined  it  with  an  elabo- 
rate intelligence  service.23 

These  steps  were  supplemented  by  such  developments  as  the  em- 
ployment of  former  slaves,  "freedmen,"  in  the  service  of  the  state,2* 
the  use  of  eunuchs  for  political  purposes,25  the  worship  of  the  em- 
peror, and  the  gradual  decay  of  independent  commercial  and  indus- 
trial enterprise.  Long  before  the  close  of  the  2d  century  a.d.,  when 
Septimius  Severus  through  wholesale  slaughter  and  confiscation 
made  the  despotic  center  the  "owner  of  most  of  the  good  arable 
land  throughout  the  empire,"  2e  the  old  society  had  lost  its  identity. 
It  was  only  logical  that  the  "Semitic  emperor,"  who  despised  Italy 
and  "spoke  Latin  with  a  Punic  accent,"  2T  wanted  to  be  called  do- 
minus,  "master."  c 

Thus  when  Diocletian  established  a  spectacularly  Eastern  court, 
the  actual  Orientalization  of  the  empire  had  already  been  accom- 
plished. A  prominent  economic  historian  summarizes  the  great  trans- 
formation as  follows:  "In  the  second  and  third  centuries  .  .  .  not 
only  was  the  State  (or  the  emperor)  the  largest  landed  proprietor,  it 
was  also  the  biggest  owner  of  mines  and  quarries,  and  in  course  of 
time  came  to  be  the  greatest  industrialist."  28  Furthermore,  "trade — 
wholesale  and  retail — became  increasingly  subject  to  governmental 
control"  29  and  "transport  was  also  largely  nationalized."  80  In  this 
single-centered  economic  setting,  "the  idea  of  the  omnipotence  of 
the  State"  evolved  readily.  It  took  shape  essentially  "under  the  influ- 
ence of  orientalizing-hellenistic  and  other  theories  of  the  State."  The 
wholesale  "replacement  of  one  economic  system  by  the  other,  and 
the  substitution  of  a  new  civilization  and  attitude  to  life  for  the  old 
took  more  than  a  century  and  a  half.  It  was  completed  by  the  end 
of  the  third  century."  31 

A  comparative  analysis  of  the  Orientalization  of  the  Roman  Em- 
pire leads  to  certain  basic  conclusions: 

1)  The  institutional  meaning  of  this  process  appears  clearly  only 
if  its  study  is  based  on  the  understanding  of  hydraulic  society  and 
agromanagerial  (Oriental)  despotism. 

2)  Hellenization  means  Orientalization.  The  Hellenization  of 
Rome  started  almost  two  hundred  years  before  the  establishment  of 
the  principate. 

c.  "It  was  as  if  the  spirit  of  ancient  Assyria  had  taken  possession  of  the  palace  to 
make  the  Empire  subject  to  a  bureaucracy  which  should  be  the  executive  of  a  divine 
authority  transmitted  through  a  dynastic  succession.  In  such  a  system  there  would  be 
no  place  for  a  Senate  or  for  the  principle  of  delegation  by  the  State,  and  it  was  a  sign 
that  this  notion  of  government  now  tended  to  prevail  that  the  title  dominus  came 
to  be  generally  applied  to  the  emperor"  (Miller,  1939:  35). 


3)  As  a  societal  type,  imperial  Rome  must  be  equated  not  with 
the  proto-industrial  absolutisms  of  the  West,  but  with  the  great  agro- 
managerial  absolutisms  of  the  East, 


Different  from  the  absolutist  rulers  of  post-Medieval  Europe,  the 
Roman  administrators  of  Spain,  Gaul,  Western  Germany,  and  Eng- 
land were  not  restricted  by  nationally  organized  property-based 
corporations  (estates).  And  although  they  preserved  as  far  as  possible 
the  indigenous  political  leadership  and  culture,  they  operated  the 
political  apparatus  in  accordance  with  the  great  traditions  of  agro- 
managerial  statecraft.  As  elsewhere,  they  created  huge  nonhydraulic 
constructions,  primarily  state  roads  and  frontier  walls.  By  means  of 
their  state  post  they  monopolized  quick  communications.  And  they 
counted  and  taxed  the  inhabitants  of  the  Western  provinces  in  much 
the  same  way  as  they  did  in  the  East.32 

No  innate  Iberian,  Celtic,  or  Germanic  urge  for  freedom  kept  the 
ancestors  of  modern  Western  Europe  from  accepting — at  first  under 
coercion  but  later  as  a  matter  of  course — the  yoke  of  a  state  which 
gave  the  nongovernmental  forces  of  society  little  chance  to  participate 
in  shaping  their  political  and  economic  fate.  Over  several  centuries 
Oriental  despotism  in  its  Hellenistic-Roman  form  spread  into  the 
woodlands  of  Germany,  to  the  Atlantic  shores  of  Spain  and  Gaul,  and 
to  the  southern  borders  of  Scotland. 

These  Eastern  institutions  did  not  disappear  when,  in  the  4th 
century,  Western  Rome,  for  all  practical  purposes,  became  inde- 
pendent of  the  hydraulic  East.  The  despotic  state,  which  had  tolerated 
no  strong  and  organized  proprietary  classes — although  it  did  tolerate 
large  property  of  all  kinds — continued  to  reproduce  itself  even  after 
its  managerial  and  bureaucratic  apparatus  shrank.  Indeed,  until  the 
end,  the  government  of  Western  Rome  insisted  upon  its  absolutist 
position.  Its  last  prominent  political  figure,  Heraclius,  was  a  typical 
representative  of  hydraulic  statecraft,  a  eunuch.33 

As  in  Late  Byzantium,  the  decline  of  Western  Rome  was  largely 
due  to  external  factors.  The  loss  of  revenue  from  the  wealthy  eastern 
provinces  seriously  weakened  the  Italian  metropolis,  which  was  also 
having  great  difficulty  in  adjusting  itself  to  the  collapse  of  its  slave 
economy.  The  East,  being  agriculturally  more  intensive,  never  had 
relied  on  slave  labor  as  had  the  West.  And  consequently  the  West 
suffered  severely  when  the  sources  of  cheap  slave  labor  dried  up. 

CHAPTER    6,    E  213 

The  political  impotence  of  Rome  became  blatantly  apparent  at 
the  beginning  of  the  5th  century:  Rome  lost  Gaul  in  406,  England  in 
407,  Spain  in  415,  and  Africa  in  429.  Within  the  truncated  metropolis, 
the  forces  of  big  landed  property,  as  represented  by  a  new  senatorial 
group,  increased  in  importance.  However,  the  emerging  proprietary 
leaders  lacked  the  strength  to  set  up  a  non-Oriental  type  of  govern- 
ment. This  objective  was  achieved  only  when  they  joined  the  Ger- 
manic king,  Odovacar,  who  in  476  formally  terminated  the  worn-out 
absolutism  of  Western  Rome.34 

c.  Europe  after  476 


Certain  symbols  of  hydraulic  statecraft,  such  as  the  vassals'  obliga- 
tion to  kiss  the  sovereign's  foot,  persisted  for  a  considerable  time, 
even  outlasting  the  Merovingian  period;  35  but  lacking  substantial 
societal  foundations,  they  eventually  ceased  to  be  invoked.  And  the 
political  development,  instead  of  following  the  Roman  model,  pro- 
duced the  decentralized  protofeudal  system  of  government  which 
characterized  the  first  period  of  the  Middle  Ages. 



In  this  period,  which  is  assumed  to  have  lasted  until  the  end  of  the 
12  th  century,37  there  appeared  in  1086  the  Domesday  Book,  a  register 
of  the  lands  of  England,  which  was  ordered  in  1085  by  the  Norman 
king,  William  the  Conqueror.  European  historians  have  indicated 
institutional  roots  of  the  Domesday  both  in  England38  and  Nor- 
mandy.39 But  while  these  roots  are  entirely  authentic,  they  do  not 
adequately  explain  the  great  English-Norman  land  register.  Not 
only  was  this  type  of  public  cadaster  unknown  in  the  area  from  which 
William  and  his  men  came  ("Normandy  had  no  Domesday  and  no 
dooms"),40  but  it  was  also  unknown  in  other  parts  of  non-Oriental 
Europe.  According  to  Maitland,  it  represents  "an  exploit  which  has 
no  parallel  in  the  history  of  Europe."  41 

What  then  inspired  this  unparalleled  achievement?  Conquest, 
which  Maitland  suggests,42  provides  no  plausible  explanation,  since 
Medieval  Europe  saw  many  conquests  but  only  one  Domesday  Book. 
The  Normans  of  Normandy  are  a  case  in  point.  They  did  not,  to 
our  knowledge,  institute  a  Domesday,  but  they  certainly  settled  in 
the  north  of  France  through  conquest.  Could  it  be  that  by  1085 


the  Normans  had  become  familiar  with  administrative  methods 
which  were  unknown  to  them  in  the  10th  or  even  in  the  earlier 
part  of  the  nth  century? 

When  in  1066  the  Normans  conquered  England,  some  of  their 
countrymen  had  already  set  themselves  up  as  the  masters  of  southern 
Italy,  an  area  which,  with  interruptions,  had  been  under  Byzantine 
administration  until  this  date;  and  some  of  them  had  established  a 
foothold  in  Sicily,  an  area  which  had  been  ruled  by  Byzantium  for 
three  hundred  years  and  after  that  by  the  Saracens,  who  combined 
Arab  and  Byzantine  techniques  of  absolutist  government. 

We  have  no  conclusive  evidence  regarding  the  effect  of  this  By- 
zantine-Saracen experience  on  William  and  his  councilors.  But  we 
know  that  in  1072 — that  is,  thirteen  years  before  William  ordered 
the  descriptio  of  England — the  Normans  had  conquered  the  capital 
of  Sicily,  Palermo,  and  the  northern  half  of  the  island.  And  we  also 
know  that  there  were  considerable  "comings  and  goings"  43  between 
the  Italian-Sicilian  Normans  and  their  cousins  in  Normandy  and 
England,  particularly  among  the  nobility  and  clergy.  The  latter  hap- 
pened also  to  be  actively  engaged  in  administrative  work.44  No  won- 
der, then,  that  on  the  basis  of  his  knowledge  of  the  period  Haskins, 
the  leading  English  expert  on  English-Sicilian  relations  in  the  Middle 
Ages,  suggests  "the  possibility  of  a  connexion  between  Domesday 
Book  and  the  fiscal  registers  which  the  south  had  inherited  from  its 
Byzantine  and  Saracen  rulers."  45 

Haskins'  hypothesis  explains  well  why  a  typically  hydraulic  device 
of  fiscal  administration  appeared  in  feudal  Europe.  It  also  explains 
why  for  hundreds  of  years  afterward  this  "magnificent  exploit"  had 
no  parallel  in  that  area.  Evidently,  systematic  and  nationwide  registra- 
tion was  as  out  of  place  in  feudal  society  as  it  was  customary  in  the 
realm  of  Oriental  despotism. 

d.  Spain 


But  neither  the  failure  of  the  Frankish  attempts  nor  the  singularity 
of  the  English  Domesday  implies  that  after  476  the  institutional 
divide  between  the  hydraulic  and  nonhydraulic  parts  of  Europe  re- 
mained fixed.  The  history  of  southern  Italy  and  Sicily  prior  to  the 
Normans  reveals  two  major  forces  of  Eastern  expansion:  the  By- 
zantines, who  tried  to  uphold  their  way  of  government  in  certain 
former  provinces  of  the  Roman  empire,  and,  far  more  significantly, 
the  Arabs,  who,  inspired  by  a  dynamic  new  creed  and  equipped  with 

CHAPTER    6,    E  215 

new  methods  of  warfare,46  extended  their  power  from  the  Near  Eastern 
centers  of  hydraulic  society  throughout  Northwest  Africa,  Spain,  and 
— temporarily — Sicily. 

This  colossal  eruption  resembled  the  westward  growth  of  the 
Roman  empire  in  that  it,  too,  spread  Orientally  despotic  patterns  of 
government.  But  for  a  variety  of  reasons  the  institutional  effects  of 
the  Islamic  conquest  were  much  more  far-reaching.  Under  Roman 
influence  Western  Europe  became  part  of  a  loosely  hydraulic  Oriental 
society  without,  however,  adopting  hydraulic  agriculture;  and  eventu- 
ally it  returned  to  a  submarginally  hydraulic  or  altogether  non- 
hydraulic  position.  Under  the  influence  of  the  Arabs,  the  swing  was 
considerably  greater.  Prior  to  the  Islamic  invasion,  the  Iberian 
peninsula  was  the  home  of  a  protofeudal  civilization,  which  had 
small-scale  irrigation  agriculture  but  probably  few  hydraulic  enter- 
prises/ In  sharp  contrast  to  the  Romans,  who  seized  Western  Europe, 
the  Arab  conquerors  of  Spain  were  entirely  familiar  with  hydraulic 
agriculture,  and  in  their  new  habitat  they  eagerly  employed  devices 
that  had  been  extremely  profitable  in  the  countries  of  their  origin. 
Under  Muslim  rule  "artificial  irrigation  .  .  .  was  improved  and  ex- 
tended ...  on  Oriental  models,"  and  this  included  government 
management:  "its  superintendence  was  the  business  of  the  state."  " 

Thus  Moorish  Spain  became  more  than  marginally  Oriental.  It 
became  a  genuine  hydraulic  society,  ruled  despotically  by  appointed 
officials  48  and  taxed  by  agromanagerial  methods  of  acquisition.  The 
Moorish  army,  which  soon  changed  from  a  tribal  to  a  "mercenary" 
body,49  was  as  definitely  the  tool  of  the  state  as  were  its  counterparts 
in  the  Umayyad  and  Abbassid  caliphates.  A  protoscientific  system 
of  irrigation  and  gardening 50  was  supplemented  by  an  extraordinary 
advance  in  the  typically  hydraulic  sciences  of  astronomy  and  mathe- 
matics.51 Contemporary  feudal  Europe  could  boast  of  no  comparable 
development.  Reconstructing  the  impressions  of  the  great  Arab  geog- 
rapher, Ibn  Hauqal,  who  visited  Spain  in  the  10th  century,  Dozy 
comments  on  the  organizational  power  of  the  Muslim  state,  whose 
police,  like  its  hydraulic  agriculture,  penetrated  the  most  remote 
parts  of  the  country:  "The  foreigner  noticed  with  admiration  the 
universally  well  cultivated  fields  and  a  hydraulic  system,  which  was 
coordinated  in  such  a  profoundly  scientific  manner  that  it  created 
fertility  in  the  seemingly  least  rewarding  soils.  He  marvelled  at  the 
perfect  order  that,  thanks  to  the  vigilant  police,  reigned  even  in 
the  least  accessible  districts."  52 

d.  Hirth,  1928:  57  ff.;  Hall,  1886:  363,  365;  Levi-Provencal,  1932:  166;  Laborde,  1808: 
29,  107.  Laborde's  memoir  claims  complete  lack  of  agricultural  interest  for  the  Gothic 
conquerors  of  Spain  (Laborde,  1808:   107). 


In  the  second  half  of  the  14th  century  the  leading  town  of  the 
Hanseatic  League,  Liibeck,  numbered  22,000  inhabitants,53  and  Lon- 
don about  35,ooo.54  At  the  height  of  the  Western  caliphate  the 
Moorish  capital,  Cordoba,  may  have  harbored  a  million  persons,55 
and  Seville  in  1 248  more  than  30o,ooo.56  At  the  close  of  the  Muslim 
period  Granada  was  probably  at  least  as  populous.  The  Encyclopedia 
of  Islam  estimates  the  dwellers  of  this  beautiful  last  Islamic  capital 
in  Spain  at  "half  a  million."  57 

No  wonder  then  that  the  absolutist  state,  at  the  peak  of  its  pros- 
perity, collected  a  stupendous  revenue.58  And  no  wonder  either  that 
this  state,  which  like  other  hydraulic  regimes  freely  used  eunuchs,69 
was  ruthless  in  purging  dignitaries  who  fell  from  favor.  When  these 
unfortunates  were  liquidated,  the  state  was  quick  to  confiscate  what- 
ever property  they  possessed 



The  reconquista,  which  in  the  13th  century  reestablished  Chris- 
tian control  over  the  greater  part  of  Spain,  transformed  a  great 
hydraulic  civilization  into  a  late  feudal  society.  Students  of  Russia, 
who  see  the  rise  of  an  Orientally  despotic  state  in  Muscovy  as  the 
consequence  of  an  armed  struggle  against  powerful  Eastern  enemies, 
will  do  well  to  compare  the  Russian  story  with  what  happened  in 
Spain — and  for  that  matter,  in  Austria. 

To  begin  with  the  latter  country.  For  several  centuries,  Austria 
was  threatened  by  one  of  the  greatest  Oriental  empires  known  to 
history:  Ottoman  Turkey;  and  extended  parts  of  Hungary  were  oc- 
cupied by  the  Turks  for  more  than  one  hundred  and  fifty  years. 
But  the  main  political  and  military  base  of  the  counterattack,  Austria, 
remained  free;  and  the  protracted  struggle  against  the  mighty  Eastern 
foe  did  not  convert  the  Austrian  state  into  an  Oriental  despotism. 
Like  other  countries  of  Europe,  Austria  advanced  toward  a  definitely 
Western  type  of  absolutism:  until  the  middle  of  the  18th  century  the 
Austrian  diets  (Landtage)  had  a  decisive  voice  concerning  taxation 
and  the  drafting  of  soldiers,61  and  even  after  1740  the  estates  played 
an  essential  role  in  the  fiscal  administration.62  Hungary  stubbornly 
maintained  a  semi-autonomous  government,  whose  Landtag,  con- 
sisting of  an  upper  house  (clerical  and  secular  magnates)  and  a  lower 
house  (lower  nobles  and  urban  deputies),  "exerted  a  great  influence 
on  the  country's  administration."  63 

In  Spain,  too,  the  base  of  the  Reconquest  was  never  Orientalized. 
The  rulers  of  the  small  northern  states  that  had  withstood  the  Arab 
onslaught  depended  for  their  military  strength  on  the  support  of  the 

CHAPTER    6,    E  217 

nobles,  the  clergy,  and  the  towns; 64  and  at  the  end  of  the  main  phase 
of  the  Reconquest  these  groups,  far  from  being  politically  pulverized, 
were  able,  because  of  their  privileges,  to  maintain  a  semi-autonomous 
existence.65  Similar  to  the  development  in  late  feudal  and  postfeudal 
France,  England,  Germany,  Italy,  and  Scandinavia,  Spain  also  de- 
veloped an  absolutist  government.66  This  government  was  strong 
enough  to  prevail  over  the  nobles,  the  Church,  and  the  towns;  6T  but 
it  was  unable  to  wipe  out  the  entailed  aristocratic  landholdings  68  and 
the  semi-autonomy  of  the  Church;  and  it  was  unable  to  break  the 
pride  and  dignity  of  the  Spanish  people.  The  estates  of  Aragon  that 
had  declared  the  recognition  of  their  privileges  to  be  the  condition 
of  their  homage  to  the  king  ("si  no,  no.")  repeated  this  daring  formula 
again  in  1462,69  that  is,  more  than  a  hundred  years  after  the  greater 
part  of  the  Peninsula  had  been  reconquered.  And  although  the  as- 
semblies (cortes),  which  in  Castille  essentially  represented  the  free 
municipalities,  had  ceased  to  exist  in  1665,  the  absolutist  regime  failed 
to  instill  in  its  subjects  the  submissive  attitude  habitual  under  hy- 
draulic regimes. 

To  state  this  is  not  to  deny  the  extraordinary  strength  of  Spanish 
absolutism.  This  phenomenon  may  at  least  in  part  be  explained  by 
the  exigencies  of  the  Reconquest  "frontier,"  which  enhanced  the 
growth  of  royal  authority  in  Catalonia,  Navarre,  and  Aragon.70  How- 
ever, the  Wirtschaftsgesinnung  of  the  Christian  kings  may  have  been 
even  more  decisive.  The  northern  base  of  the  Reconquest  greatly 
favored  pastoralism;  and  the  European  demand  for  wool — which  in- 
creased with  the  advance  of  the  Reconquest 71 — led  the  Spanish  kings 
one-sidedly  to  promote  sheep  breeding  also  in  the  liberated  areas 
of  central  Spain,  and  even  in  parts  of  southern  Spain.72  While  the 
kings  gave  all  manner  of  privileges  to  the  towns  and  nobles,  they 
established  a  tight  fiscal  and  jurisdictional  control  over  the  sheep 
breeders,  who,  from  the  13  th  century  on,  were  combined  in  a  special 
organization,  the  Mesta.73 

In  Spain,  as  in  England,  the  sheep  "ate"  the  people.  But  Spain 
differed  from  England  in  that,  almost  from  the  beginning,  the  princes 
profited  enormously  from  the  rapidly  expanding  pastoral  economy. 
State  revenues  from  this  source  were  large.74  Eventually  the  monarchs 
considered  "the  exploitation  and  conservation  of  the  pastoral  in- 
dustry .  .  .  the  principal  sustenance  of  these  kingdoms."  75 

The  huge  revenues  which  the  Crown  received  from  its  colonial 
empire  have  frequently  been  held  responsible  for  the  decline  of  the 
Spanish  population  in  the  16th  century/  However,  the  depopulation 

e.  Seville,  which  in  1247  ^a<^  over  3°°»000  inhabitants,  numbered  in  the  16th  century 
200,000.  Cordoba,  which  under  the  caliphs  may  have  harbored  a  million  people,  now 


of  the  villages,  which  certainly  was  a  major  cause  for  the  depopula- 
tion of  the  cities,  cannot  be  satisfactorily  explained  thus,  since  the 
influx  of  gold  and  silver  would  have  enabled  the  enriched  towns- 
people to  buy  more  rather  than  fewer  rural  products. 

In  all  probability  the  downward  trend  was  caused  primarily  by  the 
replacement  of  labor-intensive  irrigation  farming  by  labor-extensive 
cattle  breeding.  This  development,  stimulated  by  the  soaring  export 
of  wool/  led  to  the  promulgation  of  the  Leyes  de  Toro,  which  com- 
pleted the  "subjection  of  agriculture  to  large  scale  pasturage"  76  four- 
teen years  before  Cortez  took  Mexico  and  twenty-eight  years  before 
Pizarro  took  Cuzco.  And  it  also  accounts  for  the  great  reduction  in 
the  Indian  farming  population  in  post-Conquest  Mexico,  Yucatan, 
and  Peru." 

In  the  Spanish  countryside,  herds  and  herders  now  made  their 

numbered  60,000  (Laborde,  1808:  9).  The  population  of  Granada  decreased  from  per- 
haps 500,000  to  80,000  (see  above,  and  Laborde,  1808:  9).  These  decreases  resulted  in 
part  from  military  destruction;  but  in  part  they  express  the  transformation  of  the 
rural  order.  Some  sections  of  the  countryside  never  recovered  from  the  pestilence 
and  the  Reconquest  (Klein,  1920:  337).  Others  were  allowed  to  lie  fallow  during  the 
16th  and  17th  centuries  (ibid.:  320,  342  ft.),  until  the  formerly  flourishing  fields  were 
"smitten  with  the  curse  of  barrenness"  (Prescott,  1838,  III:  461,  n.  85),  because  sheep 
breeding  had  been  allowed  "to  run  riot  throughout  the  land  and  to  annihilate  almost 
the  last  vestiges  of  agriculture  that  still  remained"  (Klein,  1920:  343). 

The  known  ruins  of  former  settlements  in  Catalonia,  Aragon,  Leon,  Valencia,  Mancha, 
Castille,  etc.  numbered  more  than  1141.  The  region  of  the  Guadalquivir  had  boasted 
1200  villages  under  the  Caliph  of  Cordoba.  In  1800  only  200  survived.  Of  the  fifty 
villages  of  Malaga,  only  sixteen  were  left.  One  section  of  the  diocese  of  Salamanca  had 
only  333  villages  out  of  its  former  748,  while  of  127  villages  which  existed  near  des 
partidos  de  Banos  pena  del  rey  only  thirteen  remained  (Laborde,  1808:  8).  The  area 
of  the  kingdom  of  Granada  that  prior  to  1492  had  supported  three  million  people 
numbered  only  661,000  by  1800  (ibid.:  9). 

/.  The  rise  continued  until  the  latter  part  of  the  16th  century  (Klein,  1920:  37-46). 

g.  Ships  were  small  and  freight  expensive;  and  nothing  much  was  to  be  gained 
by  exporting  grain  to  Europe.  Silver  was  the  most  highly  prized  export  article;  but 
handsome  profits  could  also  be  made  in  sugar  and  cacao,  dyewoods,  dyestuffs,  and  hides 
(Humboldt,  1811,  IV:  368  ff.).  Within  a  few  decades  "oxen,  horses,  sheep,  and  pigs 
multiplied  to  a  surprising  degree  in  all  parts  of  New  Spain"  (ibid.,  Ill:  224).  By  1570, 
when  Acosta  arrived  in  America,  some  individuals  owned  as  many  as  70,000  and  even 
100,000  sheep  (Acosta,  1894,  I:  418;  Obregon,  1928:  151).  Wherever  the  increase  of 
cattle  was  not  checked,  the  herds  grew  rapidly,  not  only  in  Central  America  but 
also  in  the  Southwest  of  North  America  (Obregon,  1928:  151),  in  Peru  (cf.  Markham, 
1892:  163;  see  also  Juan  and  Ulloa,  1806,  I:  300,  318,  and  passim),  and  in  Yucatan 
(Shattuck,  Redfield,  and  MacKay,  1933:  15).  When  Cortez  set  up  a  princely  estate  in 
Oaxaca,  he  at  once  "imported  large  numbers  of  merino  sheep  and  other  cattle,  which 
found  abundant  pastures  in  the  country  around  Tehuantepec"  (Prescott,  1936:  671). 
Consistently,  it  was  Cortez  who  in  the  New  World  organized  a  Mesta  patterned  after 
the  Mesta  of  Castille  (Mendoza,  1854:  225). 

CHAPTER    6,   E  219 

lonely  way  over  vast  grasslands.  It  was  in  this  landscape  that  Don 
Quixote  urged  on  his  stumbling  nag.  And  in  the  cities  no  spectacle 
was  so  popular  as  the  bullfight.  In  Valladolid,  in  1527,  Charles  V 
celebrated  the  birth  of  his  son,  Philip  II,  by  himself  entering  the 
ring  to  challenge  the  bull. 

e.  The  Introduction  of  Oriental  Despotism  into  Russia 

"The  Tatars  had  nothing  in  common  with  the  Moors.  When  they 
conquered  Russia,  they  gave  her  neither  algebra  nor  Aristotle." 
Pushkin  was  doubtless  correct  in  lamenting  the  negative  cultural 
consequence  of  the  Tatar h  conquest.  He  might  have  gone  even 
further  and  noted  the  devastating  political  consequences  of  their 
fabulous  military  success.  The  Tatars,  who  by  1240  had  crushingly 
defeated  the  Eastern  Slavs,  controlled  their  new  subjects  so  effectively 
that  no  independent  Russian  power  undertook  to  liberate  them. 

Nor  did  any  internal  Russian  force  engage  in  a  systematic  and 
open  struggle  against  the  Horde.  The  isolated  military  victory  at 
the  Don  River,  which  the  Grand  Duke  of  Moscow,  Dmitry,  won 
over  a  Tatar  army  in  1380,  backfired  sadly:  the  subsequent  reprisals 
discouraged  armed  resistance  for  another  hundred  years.1  Even  when, 
in  1480,  Ivan  III  refused  allegiance  to  the  enfeebled  Tatars,  he 
avoided  battling  against  them.  The  Tatars,  while  still  able  to  lead 
an  army  against  the  Muscovite  host,  were  equally  reluctant.  Inde- 
cision on  both  sides  resulted  in  "an  unbelievable  spectacle:  two 
armies  fleeing  from  each  other  without  being  pursued  by  anyone." 
To  quote  Karamsin  further:  "So  ended  this  last  invasion  of  the 
Tatars."  > 

So  indeed  ended  Tatar  rule  over  Russia.  It  had  lasted  for  almost 
two  hundred  and  fifty  years;  and  the  Grand  Duchy  of  Muscovy,  which 
rose  to  prominence  during  this  period,  did  so  not  as  an  independent 
force  but  as  the  instrument  of  the  Khan. 

h.  The  name  "Tatar"  originally  referred  to  peoples  living  in  the  eastern  part  of 
Inner  Asia  (see  Wittfogel  and  Feng,  1949:  101  ff.).  After  the  great  expansion  of  Mongol 
power  during  the  13th  century,  the  name  began,  in  Eastern  Europe,  to  denote  those 
Mongols  and  Turks  who  together  formed  the  core  of  the  Golden  Horde.  Merging 
with  older  Turkish  and  Finnish  groups,  these  "Tatars"  spoke  Turkish,  a  language 
which  by  then  had  become  the  most  important  ethnic  and  cultural  trait  of  the 
westernmost  sector  of  the  Mongol  world  (Spuler,  1943:  1 1  n.).  In  the  present  discussion 
the  terms  "Tatar"  and  "Mongol"  are  used  interchangeably  to  designate  the  people 
of  the  Golden  Horde. 

1.  After  1380  the  leading  principality,  Muscovy,  "for  the  time  being  did  not  think 
of  fighting  the  Tatars"  (Kliuchevskii,  Kurs,  II:  so). 

j.  Karamsin,  HER,  VI:    195-6. 


This  fact  is  not  disputed.  Nor  is  it  seriously  denied  that  16th- 
century  Muscovy  cannot  be  equated  with  Western  absolutism.  How- 
ever, opinions  differ  fundamentally  concerning  the  origin  of  Mus- 
covy's despotism.  Was  Ivan's  autocratic  control  over  land  and  people 
due  to  external  conditions,  namely  to  a  continually  fought-over 
frontier?  Or  was  it  due  primarily  to  the  influence  of  the  Mongols 
who  in  Russia  applied  despotic  methods  of  statecraft  learned  in  sev- 
eral hydraulic  countries  of  Asia,  particularly  China? /M* 

Historians  who  uphold  the  "external"  interpretation  lean  heavily 
on  the  authority  of  the  foremost  modern  Russian  historian,  Rliu- 
chevsky.  I  fully  share  the  esteem  in  which  he  is  held  by  scholars  of  the 
most  diverse  opinion;  but  I  find  his  views  on  the  emergence  of  Mus- 
covite despotism  less  one-sided  than  is  generally  assumed. 

True,  Kliuchevsky  has  paid  little  attention  to  the  Tatar  Yoke,* 
and  his  understanding  of  Oriental  despotism  is  limited."1  But  he 

j-bis  (added  to  Third  Printing).  The  Mongols  were  familiar  with  the  organizational 
and  acquisitive  methods  of  Chinese  statecraft  when  they  subdued  Russia  (1237-40). 
Chingis  Khan  conquered  China  north  of  the  Yellow  River  (1211-22)  and  Turkestan 
(1219-20).  From  1215  on  he  had  as  a  top-ranking  adviser  a  Liao-Chinese,  Yeh-lii  Ch'u- 
ts'ai  (Wittfogel  and  Feng  1949:  669  f.),  who  later  also  served  his  son  Ogotai  (1228-41). 
Ogotai  completed  the  conquest  of  North  China  in  1234.  By  1240  the  Mongols  had 
learned  to  operate  a  state  post,  and  they  managed  in  North  China  census- taking,  taxa- 
tion, and  the  corvee  (Yuan  Shih  2:  lb,  2a,  7a;  121:  9a;  146  passim;  191:  2a.  Cf.  also 
Hsin  Yuan  Shih,  chap.  127;  Chingis  Khan's  Yasa  and  The  Secret  History  of  the 
Mongols).  In  the  1240's  Carpini  observed  the  state  post  and  the  taking  of  a  preliminary 
census  in  Mongol-dominated  Russia.  In  1253  the  Great  Khan,  Mongke,  ordered  a  certain 
Pieh-erh-ke  (Berke?)  to  take  a  census  in  Russia  (Yuan  Shih  3:  4b).  Russian  sources  report 
that  this  was  done  in  1257;  and  they  mention  for  1259  a  Mongol  census-taker,  "Berkai" 
(Karamsin,  HER,  IV:  91,  94;  E.  Bretschneider,  Mediaeval  Researches,  London,  1910.  II: 
80).  The  Great  Khan's  jurisdiction  over  the  Golden  Horde  lasted  until  1259  (Spuler 
1943:  41  f.  and  252),  that  is,  throughout  the  formative  years  of  the  Tatar  Yoke. 

k.  Florinsky  criticizes  him  for  suggesting  that  when  studying  the  political  organiza- 
tion of  northeastern  Russia,  one  "should  forget  for  a  time  .  .  .  that  Russia  was  con- 
quered by  the  Tartars"  (Florinsky,  1953,  I:  78);  and  Vernadsky  (1953:  333  ff.)  notes 
that  except  for  "a  few  general  remarks  on  the  importance  of  the  khans'  policies  for 
the  unification  of  Russia  .  .  .  [Kliuchevsky]  paid  little  attention  to  the  Mongols." 

m.  Kliuchevsky  was  not  too  familiar  with  the  institutions  of  Oriental  society  and 
with  such  of  its  variants  as  traditional  China.  Otherwise  he  would  not  have  contrasted 
the  service-based  class  system  of  Muscovite  Russia  and  the  conditions  of  Oriental 
despotism  (Kluchevsky,  HR,  III:  52).  In  another  context,  however,  he  notes  the 
similarities  in  the  Muscovite  methods  of  liquidating  potentially  dangerous  relatives 
and  methods  of  Oriental  despotism  in  like  situations  (ibid.,  II:  88).  And  his  description 
of  state  service  and  land  tenure  in  post-Mongol  Russia  clearly  indicates  institutional 
affinities  to  Ottoman  Turkey  and  Muslim  India.  His  discussion  of  Peter's  efforts  to  de- 
velop industry  is  a  major  contribution  to  our  understanding  of  the  Russian  version  of 
an  agrobureaucratic  despotism.  The  omnipotent  state,  based  on  enforced  service  and 
claiming  ultimate  control  over  all  land,  has  also  been  viewed  as  a  key  element  of 

CHAPTER    6,    E  221 

was  too  great  a  student  to  overlook  the  crucial  institutional  changes 
which,'  under  Tatar  rule  and  because  of  it,  occurred  in  Russia's  state 
and  society.  According  to  his  own  account,  these  changes  definitely 
preceded  the  rise  of  the  "frontier,"  with  whose  formative  role  he 
is  so  impressed. 

Indeed,  Kliuchevsky,  in  his  "frontier"  thesis,  deals  essentially  with 
the  post-Tatar  period.  He  describes  the  changes  involved  in  the 
recruiting  of  "a  numerous  military-official  class"  as  being  closely 
connected  with  "the  territorial  expansion  of  the  empire,"  whose  new 
frontiers  had  "placed  the  state  in  direct  contact  with  such  external 
and  alien  foes  of  Russia  as  the  Swedes,  the  Lithuanians,  the  Poles, 
and  Tatars.  This  direct  contact  had  put  the  state  in  such  a  position 
that  it  had  come  to  resemble  an  armed  camp  surrounded  on  three 
sides  by  enemies."  77  Manifestly,  the  Tatars  of  whom  Kliuchevsky  is 
speaking  are  those  that  confronted  16th-century  Muscovy,  and  the 
frontier  of  which  they  form  a  part  is  the  1 6th-century  frontier.  Kliu- 
chevsky says  so  expressly,78  and  several  times  he  refers  specifically  to 
the  years  from  1492  to  1595.™ 

In  view  of  these  facts  we  cannot  help  feeling  that  Kliuchevsky's 
"frontier"  thesis  raises  more  questions  than  it  answers.  Why  should 
a  non-Oriental  Russia  evolve  into  an  en  forced-service  despotism,  be- 
cause Russia  was  fighting  such  Western  countries  as  Sweden,  Lith- 
uania, and  Poland?  Many  European  governments  dealt  with  compa- 
rable enemies  without  establishing  Orientally  despotic  patterns  of 
control  over  land  and  people.  Or  why  should  a  non-Oriental  Russia 
become  Orientally  despotic  when  the  Oriental  forces  she  was  com- 
bating were,  relatively  speaking,  no  stronger  than  the  Turks,  with 
whom  the  Austrians  and  Hungarians  fought,  or  the  Moors,  with 
whom  the  Spanish  reconquerors  were  engaged  in  a  life  and  death 
struggle?  Neither  Hungary  and  Austria  nor  Spain  became  Orientally 
despotic  because  of  their  Oriental  "frontier."  We  may  therefore 
well  ask:  Could  the  Muscovite  development  of  the  16th  century  have 
occurred  because  Russia,  prior  to  this  period  and  as  the  result  of 
her  long  subjection  to  Oriental  domination,  had  already  taken  de- 
cisive organizational  and  acquisitive  steps  in  the  direction  of  a  des- 
potic "service"  state? 

Kliuchevsky's  frame  of  reference  prevents  him  from  giving  a  con- 
sistent answer  to  these  questions.  But  it  is  amazing  how  far  his  account 

Tsarist  society  by  Sumner,  who  considers  Tsarism  to  be  rooted  in  the  "ideas  and 
ritual"  of  Byzantium  and  "the  fact  and  practice  of  the  Tatar  khans."  Elaborating  this 
point,  Sumner  observes  that  it  was  under  the  influence  of  the  Golden  Horde  rather 
than  "far-away  Byzantine  administration"  that  the  Muscovite  government  and  military 
system  originated  (Sumner,  1949:  82  f.). 


of  13th-,  14th-,  and  15th-century  Russia  goes  in  affirming  the  socio- 
historical  significance  of  the  Tatar  period. 

According  to  Kliuchevsky,  it  was  during  this  period  that  the 
towns,  which  had  played  a  prominent  role  in  Kievan  Russia,80  lost, 
with  a  few  exceptions  (Novgorod,  Pskov),  their  political  impor- 
tance; 81  and  it  was  in  this  period  that  the  territorial  princes  and  in- 
dependent boyars,  after  a  temporary  improvement  in  their  conditions, 
were  sharply  curbed  by  the  grand  dukes  of  Muscovy.  Many  princes 
became  the  serving  men  of  Muscovy,  whose  new  prince-officials  by 
1500  "overlaid,  if  they  did  not  crush,  the  older  stratum  of  Muscovite 
non-titled  boyars."  82 

Why  did  this  happen?  In  the  matter  of  the  political  emasculation 
of  the  towns,  Kliuchevsky  shuts  his  eyes  to  the  effects  of  Tatar  rule," 
which  were  pointed  out  earlier  by  Karamsin.0  In  the  matter  of  the 
fate  of  the  boyars  and  territorial  princes,  he  recognizes  that  Tatar 
power  enabled  Muscovy  to  subdue  them. 

Kliuchevsky  is  aware  that  for  more  than  two  generations  the  Tatars 
operated  the  fiscal  organization  that  they  had  erected  in  Russia: 
"After  their  conquest  of  Rus,  the  Tartars  themselves  first  collected 
the  tribute  they  imposed  on  Rus."  8S  He  is  also  aware  that  political 
and  jurisdictional  power  accrued  to  Moscow  when,  in  1328,  the 
Khan  transferred  this  function  to  his  Muscovite  deputy:  "The  simple 
trustee-agent  in  charge  of  collecting  and  delivering  the  tribute  of 
the  Khan,  the  Prince  of  Moscow,  was  then  made  plenipotentiary 
leader  and  judge  of  the  Russian  princes."  Subsequently  the  Khan's 
commission  became  "a  powerful  instrument  for  the  political  unifica- 
tion of  the  territorial  states  of  Rus."  8* 

In  all  these  instances,  Tatar  influence  is  clear.  It  becomes  still 
more  impressive  when  we  recognize  the  bureaucratic  innovations  that 
accompanied  the  political  change.  Kliuchevsky  knows  that  the  meth- 
ods of  registering  land  and  tax  payers  which  were  used  throughout 

n.  Kliuchevsky  views  this  development  as  the  result  of  the  colonization  of  northern 
Russia  (Kluchevsky,  HR,  I:  269).  "Rus"  did  indeed  expand  northward,  but  this  is  only 
half  the  story.  In  Western  Europe  many  towns,  which  were  founded  by  princes  or 
feudal  lords,  emancipated  themselves.  Why  was  it  that  in  13th-  and  14th-century 
Russia  princely  authority  grew  at  the  expense  of  the  towns?  And  why  did  the  veche 
cease  to  function,  even  where  it  had  previously  prevailed? 

o.  Karamsin  (HER,  V:  451)  ascribes  the  change  to  the  increased  authority  with 
which  the  princes  were  endowed  by  the  Tatars.  Recently  Vernadsky  noted  that  "the 
destruction  of  most  of  the  major  cities  of  East  Russia  during  the  Mongol  invasion" 
was  followed  by  an  equally  devastating,  and  even  more  successful,  political  campaign 
against  the  towns  and  that  in  this  campaign  the  Russian  princes  and  boyars  supported 
their  Mongol  masters.  In  the  middle  14th  century,  the  veche  "had  ceased  to  function 
normally  in  most  East  Russian  cities  and  could  be  discounted  as  an  element  of 
government"  (Vernadsky,  195$:  345). 

CHAPTER    6,    E  223 

the  16th  and  17th  centuries85  had  existed  at  the  close  of  the  15th 
century  and  long  before."  He  knows  that  after  the  conquest  of  Russia 
the  Tatars  "during  the  first  thirty-five  years  of  the  Yoke  three  times 
took  a  census,  chislo,  of  the  entire  Russia  people,  with  the  exception 
of  the  clergy,  by  means  of  chislenniki  [census  takers]  sent  from  the 
Horde."  86  Subsequent  studies  have  thrown  additional  light  on  the 
original  Tatar  organization,87  which  may  have  served  military  as  well 
as  fiscal  purposes.88  Vernadsky  plausibly  suggests  that  "it  was  on  the 
basis  of  the  Mongol  patterns  that  the  grand  ducal  system  of  taxation 
and  army  organization  was  developed  in  the  late  14th  to  16th  cen- 
turies." 89  His  conclusion  elaborates  what  Kliuchevsky  had  intimated 
fifty  years  before. 

When  describing  the  state  post  of  16th-century  Moscow,90  Kliu- 
chevsky does  not  expressly  connect  it  with  earlier  developments.  But 
his  remark,  "the  Jamskoi  prikaz,  the  Department  of  Posts,  which 
was  known  from  the  beginning  of  the  16th  century,"  91  in  all  likeli- 
hood points  to  Ivan  III,92  that  is,  to  the  close  of  the  Tatar  period. 
Other  scholars  have  connected  the  postal  system,  yam,  which  the 
Tatars  maintained  in  Russia,93  with  the  Muscovite  institution  of  the 
same  name.9 

The  rise  of  Muscovite  despotism  coincides  with  the  rise  of  the  new 
type  of  civil  and  military  serving  men,  who,  as  temporary  holders  of 
state  land  (pomestye),  were  unconditionally  and  unlimitedly  at  the 
disposal  of  their  supreme  lord.  From  the  later  part  of  the  14th  century 
on,  the  grand  dukes  of  Muscovy  began  to  reduce  the  territorial 
princes  to  the  position  of  serving  men; 94  and  in  the  15th  century 
they  assigned  office  land — which  was  previously  given  only  to  unfree 
retainers  95 — to  free  serving  men  as  well,  mainly  to  warriors  but 
also  to  civil  ("court")  officials.96  Kliuchevsky  is  fully  cognizant  that 
this  type  of  compulsory  service  differs  from  the  conditions  of  Western 
Europe;  97  and  it  is  therefore  not  surprising  that  in  his  discussion 
of  the  legal  principles  involved  in  the  institution  of  the  pomestye 

p.  Kluchevsky,  HR,  III:  228.  The  Tatar  origin  of  the  Muscovite  system  of  census 
taking  has  been  stressed  among  others  by  Miljukov  (1898:  128)  and  Kulischer  (1925: 
404),  the  latter  of  whom,  not  without  reason,  assumes  ultimate  Chinese  influence. 

q.  Bruckner,  1896:  521  ff.;  Milukow,  1898:  81;  Kulischer,  1925:  405;  Grekov,  1939: 
216  ff.  The  Altaic  term  yam,  "post,"  and  jamti,  "postmaster"  (Spuler,  1943:  412) 
appeared  in  Russian  as  jam  and  jamshchik  (Briickner,  1896:  503,  522).  During  the 
Mongol  period,  "the  yam  was  a  special  tax  for  the  upkeep  of  post-horse  stations" 
(Vernadsky,  1953:  221).  When  in  the  early  part  of  the  16th  century  Herberstein  used 
the  Muscovite  state  post,  he  had  relay  horses  assigned  to  him  "by  the  post-master,  who 
in  their  language  is  called  'jamschnik*  [sic!]."  The  relay  stations  were  called  "jama" 
(Herberstein,  NR,  I:  108).  In  the  16th  century  the  Postal  Chancellery  was  first  called 
jamskaja  izba,  then  jamskoj  prikaz  (Staden,  1930:  13,  n.  4;  cf.  15,  59). 


he  considers  only  two  roots,  both  Oriental:  Byzantium  and  the  Tatar 
Horde.  Rejecting  the  former,  he  is  left  with  the  Tatar  alternative, 
suggested  by  Gradovski.  According  to  this  view,  "the  idea  of  the 
prince  as  the  supreme  landowner  originated  only  during  the  Mongol 
period.  As  representatives  of  the  authority  of  the  Khan,  the  Russian 
princes  enjoyed,  in  their  territories,  the  same  rights  as  the  Khan 
himself  enjoyed  in  all  the  territory  under  his  rule.  Later  the  Russian 
princes  inherited  these  state  rights  from  the  Khan  completely;  and 
this  shattered  the  incipient  private  ownership  of  land."  98 

It  is  characteristic  for  Kliuchevsky's  ambivalence  toward  the  Tatar 
issue  that  he  fails  to  verbalize  what,  from  the  standpoint  of  his  own 
premises,  is  the  only  logical  conclusion.  But  he  does  not  hesitate  to 
stress  the  rapid  growth  of  the  pomestye  institution  at  the  close  of  the 
Tatar  period.  Evidently,  "traces  of  an  intensive  and  systematic  dis- 
tribution of  public  land  in  pomestye  tenure  can  already  be  found 
during  the  second  half  of  the  15th  century."  "  The  Muscovite  princes 
established  pomestye  lands  on  a  large  scale  first  in  newly  conquered 
territories  such  as  Novgorod;  but  in  the  early  16th  century  "a  great 
development  of  pomestye  tenure"  also  took  place  in  the  vicinity  of 

The  comparative  economic  historian,  Kovalevsky,  expressly  claimed 
a  Tatar  origin  for  the  fateful  institution:  "It  is  a  fact  that  prior  to 
the  15th  century  we  never  hear  of  Russian  princes  paying  for  services 
except  by  the  distribution  of  money  and  objects  taken  as  war  loot, 
whereas  the  assignment  of  military  tenures  under  the  name  of  iktaa 
was  known  in  the  entire  Mohammedan  world  and  especially  among 
the  Tatars  for  centuries  prior  to  the  appearance  of  this  practice  in 
Muscovy.  These  considerations  led  the  author  to  state  that  this  kind 
of  practice  was  introduced  to  Muscovy  and  the  other  Russian  prin- 
cipalities through  the  imitation  of  the  Tatar  khanates."  101  Vernadsky 
does  not  claim  a  direct  link;  but  he  too  calls  the  Mongol  age  the 
"incubation  period"  of  the  pomestye  system.102 

In  view  of  these  facts  it  is  hard  to  reject  Vernadsky's  conclusion 
that  in  the  days  of  the  Tatars  the  old  free  society  of  Kievan  Russia 
was  "persistently  chipped  away  without  at  first  affecting  the  facade," 
and  that  when  Ivan  III  broke  with  the  Horde,  "the  framework  of 
the  new  structure  was  all  but  ready  and  the  new  order,  that  of  a 
service-bound  society,  became  clearly  noticeable."  103 

It  became  clearly  noticeable  indeed.  And  a  few  decades  after  Ivan's 
death,  the  forces  of  despotism  had  gained  sufficient  strength  to  destroy 
ruthlessly  the  obsolete  facade.  The  time  lag  between  incubation  and 
maturation  reflects  the  contradictory  interests  of  the  Tatars,  who 
wanted  their  Muscovite  agency  to  be  sufficiently  strong  to  carry 

CHAPTER    6,    F  225 

out  the  will  of  the  Khan  but  not  strong  enough  to  override  it.  With- 
out foreseeing  the  ultimate  consequences  of  their  action,  they  built 
an  institutional  time  bomb/  which  remained  under  control  during 
their  rule  but  which  started  to  explode  when  the  "Yoke"  collapsed. 
Byzantium's  influence  on  Kievan  Russia  was  great,  but  it  was 
primarily  cultural.  Like  China's  influence  on  Japan,  it  did  not  seri- 
ously alter  the  conditions  of  power,  class,  and  property.  Ottoman 
Turkey's  influence  on  16th-century  Russia  stimulated  a  regime  that 
was  already  Orientally  despotic,104  but  it  did  not  bring  it  into  being. 
Tatar  rule  alone  among  the  three  major  Oriental  influences  affecting 
Russia  was  decisive  both  in  destroying  the  non-Oriental  Kievan 
society  and  in  laying  the  foundations  for  the  despotic  state  of  Mus- 
covite and  post-Muscovite  Russia. 


Thus  Greece,  Rome,  Spain,  and  Russia  all  crossed  the  institutional 
divide.  In  Greece,  Rome,  and  Spain  the  pendulum  swung  back  and 
forth.  In  Tsarist  Russia  the  reverse  movement  (away  from  a  despotic 
state)  came  close  to  bringing  the  country  back  into  the  Western  orbit. 
The  changes  that  occurred  in  each  of  these  cases  were  enormous; 
but  their  character  cannot  be  clearly  understood  unless  the  affected 
institutional  structures  are  clearly  defined.  Our  analysis  has  tried 
to  do  this.  Approaching  both  structure  and  change  from  the  stand- 
point of  varying  hydraulic  and  bureaucratic  density,  we  can  draw 
the  following  major  conclusions. 

1.   Structure 

a.  Density  Subtypes  of  Hydraulic  Society 

There  are  two  subtypes  of  hydraulically  compact  areas:  one  with 
economically  predominant  and  continuous  hydraulic  systems  (Com- 
pact 1),  the  other  with  economically  predominant  but  discontinuous 
hydraulic  systems  (Compact  2).  There  are  two  subtypes  of  hydrau- 
lically loose  areas:  one  with  an  organizationally  predominant  hy- 
draulic system,  which  comprises  major  and  regionally  compact 
hydraulic  units  (Loose  1),  the  other  without  major  compact  units 
(Loose  2).  And  there  are  two  subtypes  of  the  margin  of  hydraulic 
society:  one  containing  conspicuous  hydraulic  elements  (Margin  1), 
the  other  lacking  such  elements  (Margin  2).  A  seventh  subtype,  the 
submargin,  belongs  to  the  fringe  of  the  hydraulic  world,  because  its 
r.  Vernadsky  (1953:  335)  appropriately  speaks  of  "influence  through  delayed  action." 


representatives  employ  conspicuous  elements  of  Orientally  despotic 
statecraft.  But  since  its  dominant  institutions  are  of  a  definitely  non- 
hydraulic  character,  it  must  be  placed  on  the  outer  fringe  of  this 

b.  Differing  Frequencies  of  Occurrence 

The  hydraulically  densest  subtypes  of  hydraulic  society,  Compact  1 
and  2,  are  not  the  most  frequent  ones.  Nor  can  the  other  subtypes 
be  called  less  "advanced,"  if  this  term  is  meant  to  imply  that  eventu- 
ally and  necessarily  they  will  become  compact.  Among  the  historically 
prominent  hydraulic  societies,  and  particularly  among  their  larger 
representatives,  the  compact  patterns  are  more  the  exception  than 
the  rule. 

c.  Decreasing  Importance  of  Hydraulic  Economy  Proper 

The  decreasing  importance  of  hydraulic  economy  proper  becomes 
clearly  apparent  when  the  agromanagerial  world  is  viewed  in  its 
spatial  and  temporal  entirety.  There  is  little  doubt  that  representa- 
tives of  this  world  had  a  greater  hydraulic  density  during  their  forma- 
tive and  primary  phase  than  during  their  later  and  secondary  develop- 

In  the  formative  phase,  relatively  small  hydraulic  commonwealths 
arose  in  semi-arid  and  arid  settings.  And  if  our  genetic  hypothesis  is 
correct,  we  are  safe  in  assuming  that  while,  during  this  phase,  a 
number  of  marginal  hydraulic  societies  originated  through  diffusion, 
few  such  societies  originated  through  the  disintegration  of  larger, 
loosely  hydraulic  units,  which  were  then  practically  nonexistent.  The 
greatest  number  of  marginal  hydraulic  societies — both  absolutely 
and  in  proportion  to  the  number  of  hydraulic  societies  proper — ap- 
peared therefore  not  during  the  formative  phase,  but  after  it. 

This  developmental  peculiarity  is  accompanied  by  another  which, 
although  independent  of  it,  aggravates  its  effects.  For  reasons  which 
in  the  Old  World  are  closely  connected  with  the  spread  of  nomadic 
conquest  and  globally  with  the  lessening  of  hydraulic  concern,  hy- 
draulic societies  proper  tend  to  reduce  rather  than  increase  their 
hydraulic  intensity. 

The  specific  density  patterns  of  industrial  and  hydraulic  society 
develop  in  different  ways.  The  representatives  of  industrial  society 
tend  to  become  more  industrial  without  of  necessity  becoming  in- 
dustrially compact.  Conversely,  the  representatives  of  agromanagerial 
society  seem  to  reach  their  highest  hydraulic  density  coefficient  during 
a  relatively  early  phase  of  their  growth.  Afterward  they  hold  their 

CHAPTER    6,    F  227 

own  or  recede.  Taken  in  its  entirety,  agromanagerial  society  ap- 
parently "advances"  not  to  higher  but  to  lower  levels  of  hydraulic 

2.  Capacity  for  Societal  Change 

Our  density  analysis  clarifies  both  structure  and  change.  And  it 
clarifies  change — or  lack  of  change — not  only  within  the  same  societal 
type,  but  also  from  one  societal  type  to  another. 

1)  The  formation  of  hydraulic  society  apparently  depends  on  the 
presence  of  a  hydraulic  economy  proper  as  an  essential  condition. 

2)  The  perpetuation  of  hydraulic  society  is  assured  by  a  plurality 
of  factors,  among  which  hydraulic  enterprise  may  be  of  little  impor- 
tance, except  in  crises  caused  by  the  impact  of  strong  external  non- 
hydraulic  forces. 

3)  In  a  given  hydraulic  area,  large  government-controlled  pro- 
ductive and  protective  water  works  may  serve  only  a  fraction  of  the 
politically  dominated  territory.  The  uneven  diffusion  of  institutions 
of  a  given  societal  order,  which  characterizes  the  hydraulic  world,  also 
characterizes  modern  industrial  society.  Prior  to  World  War  II,  the 
U.  S.  A.  was  an  outstanding  case  of  an  industrial  society.  But,  at  that 
time,  out  of  some  3,000  counties  only  some  200 — that  is,  about  7  per 
cent — were  classed  as  "industrial  counties"  proper.0 

4)  The  history  of  hydraulic  society  records  innumerable  rebellions 
and  palace  revolutions.  But  nowhere,  to  our  knowledge,  did  internal 
forces  succeed  in  transforming  any  single-centered  agromanagerial 
society  into  a  multicentered  society  of  the  Western  type. 

5)  More  specifically:  neither  in  the  Old  nor  in  the  New  World  did 
any  great  hydraulic  civilization  proper  spontaneously  evolve  into  an 
industrial  society,  as  did,  under  nonhydraulic  conditions,  the  coun- 
tries of  the  post-Medieval  West.  In  the  marginal  hydraulic  civiliza- 
tion of  Late  Byzantium  the  rise  of  big  private  property  led  only  to 
societal  paralysis.  In  Russia,  after  severe  attacks  from  the  outside,  the 
forces  of  private  property  (and  their  concomitant,  free  labor)  pre- 
vailed in  1917  for  a  number  of  months  over  the  system  of  despotic 
state  power. 

a.  For  a  detailed  account  of  this  phenomenon  see  The  Structure  of  the  American 
Economy,  Pt.  I,  Basic  Characteristics  (Washington,  D.  C,  National  Resources  Com- 
mittee, 1939),  p.  47. 



atterns  of  proprietary  complexity  in 
hydraulic  society 

Not  all  hydraulic  societies  comprise  independent  proprietary  forces 
of  consequence.  When  such  forces  are  present,  they  seem  to  be  more 
of  a  threat  to  the  margin  than  to  the  hydraulic  heartlands,  although 
even  in  these  latter,  strong  proprietary  developments  intensify  social 
differentiations  and  periodic  political  crises. 

Hence,  an  institutional  analysis  of  hydraulic  society  should  deal 
not  only  with  the  density  of  its  agromanagerial  apparatus  but  also 
with  the  complexity  of  its  proprietary  development.  Having  explored 
the  major  patterns  of  hydraulic  and  bureaucratic  density,  we  shall 
now  examine  the  major  complexity  patterns  of  private  property 
and  enterprise  which  emerge  under  the  shadow  of  agromanagerial 


Property  is  the  individual's  recognized  right  to  dispose  over  a 
particular  object.  Like  other  rights,  the  right  called  property  involves 
more  than  a  relation  between  a  person  and  a  thing.  It  involves  a 
relation  between  the  proprietor  and  other  individuals  who,  through 
the  former's  prerogative,  are  excluded  from  disposing  over  the  object 
in  question. 

The  relation  also  involves  the  representatives  of  government,  who, 
on  the  one  hand,  share  the  restrictions  placed  on  the  private  non- 
proprietors  and,  on  the  other,  are  concerned  with  maintaining  the 
existing  property  regulations.  Thus  in  addition  to  being  a  legal  and 
social  institution,  property  is  a  political  phenomenon.  And  property 
rights  in  different  societies,  even  when  they  are  similar  in  form,  need 
not  be  similar  in  substance. 

Strong  property0  develops  in  a  societal  order  which  is  so  balanced 
that  the  holders  of  property  can  dispose  over  "their"  objects  with  a 
maximum  of  freedom.  Weak  property  develops  in  a  societal  order 
that  is  not  so  balanced. 

a.  In  an  incipient  form  this  concept  has  already  been  used  by  Sir  Henry  Maine  in  his 
Village-Communities  (New  York,  1889),  pp.  158  ft.,  221  ff. 


CHAPTER    7,    C  229 

The  preceding  chapters  have  described  those  peculiarities  of  hy- 
draulic society  which,  by  making  the  state  inordinately  strong,  tend 
to  make  private  property  inordinately  weak.  Of  course,  weakness  is 
not  nonexistence.  Hydraulic  society  has  given  rise  to  many  forms  of 
private  property  that,  as  far  as  external  appearance  goes,  have  their 
parallels  in  other  societies.  Some  of  these  forms  show  a  different  degree 
of  development  in  different  hydraulic  civilizations,  and  these  distinc- 
tions are  so  regular — and  so  manifest — that  we  can  establish  several 
subtypes  of  proprietary  (and  societal)  complexity. 


The  concepts  of  mobile  and  immobile  property  present  obvious 
difficulties,  but  they  have  great  advantages  for  our  inquiry.  Immobile 
property  (essentially  land)  is  the  basis  of  private  enterprise  in  the 
main  branch  of  hydraulic  economy:  agriculture;  and  mobile  property 
(tools,  raw  materials,  merchandise,  money)  is  the  basis  of  its  two 
most  important  secondary  branches:  industry  (handicraft)  and  com- 
merce. Persons,  too,  may  become  the  object  of  a  proprietary  relation. 
Like  many  other  institutional  conformations,  hydraulic  society  also 
knows  slavery.  But  unlike  mobile  and  immobile  property,  slavery 
under  agromanagerial  despotism  does  not  establish  specific  patterns 
of  independent  enterprise.  We  shall  discuss  the  peculiarities  of  this 
type  of  slavery  in  the  next  chapter,  which  deals  with  classes. 


A  holder  of  strong  property  may  dispose  over  his  property  in  a 
variety  of  ways. 

He  may  put  his  property  to  whatever  use  he  wants,  as  long  as  he 
does  not  interfere  with  the  rights  of  other  members  of  the  common- 
wealth. He  may  employ  it  actively,  either  in  the  economic  sphere 
(for  purposes  of  subsistence  and  material  gain)  or  in  the  sphere  of 
physical  coercion  (for  purposes  of  promoting  his  and  his  group's 
material  or  political  interest);  or  he  may  employ  it  passively,  con- 
suming it  for  purposes  of  maintenance  and  pleasure.  Occasionally 
he  may  decide  not  to  use  it  at  all.  He  may  make  a  piece  of  wood  into 
a  bow  to  serve  him  in  a  hunt  or  raid,  or  into  a  digging  implement 
for  farming.  He  may  employ  a  piece  of  land  for  raising  what  crops 
he  wishes,  or  for  grazing  or  hunting,  or  he  may  let  it  lie  fallow. 

The  holder  of  strong  property  whose  active  property  produces  gains 


because  he,  either  alone  or  with,  or  through,  others,  employs  it 
effectively,  is  free  to  enjoy  these  gains  fully.  He  owns  the  calf  as  well 
as  the  cow.  He  is  free  to  alienate  his  property  at  will.  And  he  is  free 
to  determine  who  shall  inherit  it  when  he  dies. 


1.  Simple,  Semicomplex,  and  Complex  Patterns  of 

The  holder  of  weak  property  may  enjoy  only  a  shadow  of  these 
prerogatives,  but  this  does  not  destroy  his  desire  to  act  as  freely 
as  he  can.  He  exercises  his  modest  rights  with  respect  to  both  mobile 
and  immobile,  passive  and  active  property.  In  the  sphere  of  mobile 
and  active  property  they  become  institutionally  important  when 
the  holders  of  such  property  employ  it  professionally  and  independ- 
ently in  industry  and  commerce.  Those  who  engage  in  handicraft 
or  trade  take  a  decisive  step  forward  when  they  begin  to  devote 
themselves  to  these  pursuits  professionally,  that  is,  full  time.  How- 
ever, such  an  advance  effects  no  major  societal  change,  as  long  as 
the  professional  craftsmen  and  traders  constitute  only  a  new  sub- 
section within  the  class  of  government  functionaries.  It  is  only  when 
they  use  their  property  to  operate  professionally  and  independently 
that  they  appear  as  a  new  class.  The  difference  is  not  one  of  the  "mode 
of  production" — which  may  not  change  at  all — but  of  the  producers' 
and  traders'  political  (and  politically  conditioned  societal)  position. 

Land  is  tilled  professionally  (that  is,  by  peasants  who  spend  most 
of  their  time  farming)  as  soon  as  agriculture  becomes  an  essential 
basis  of  subsistence.  And  elements  of  private  (independent)  land- 
ownership  emerge  relatively  early.  But  the  landowners,  who  often 
do  not  till  their  soil  themselves,  are  in  many  Oriental  societies  pre- 
vented from  expanding  the  sphere  of  private  agrarian  property,  since 
most  of  the  land  is,  in  one  way  or  another,  regulated  by  the  govern- 
ment. It  is  only  when  free  (nonregulated)  land  becomes  the  dominant 
form  of  land  tenure  that  private  landownership  becomes  a  societal 
phenomenon  comparable  to  the  predominance  of  independent  pro- 
fessional handicraft  and  trade. 

Independent  active  property  advances  unevenly  in  its  mobile  and 
immobile  sectors.  These  developmental  differences  are  sufficiently 
clear  and  regular  to  permit  distinction  between  at  least  three  major 
patterns  of  proprietary  complexity  in  hydraulic  society: 

1)  When  independent  active  property  plays  a  subordinate  role 
in  both  its  mobile  and  immobile  forms,  we  are  faced  with  a  relatively 

CHAPTER    7,    D 


simple  pattern  of  property.  We  shall  call  this  conformation  a  simple 
hydraulic  society. 

2)  When  independent  active  property  develops  strongly  in  in- 
dustry and  commerce  but  not  in  agriculture,  we  are  faced  with  a 
semicomplex  pattern  of  property.  We  shall  call  this  conformation  a 
semicomplex  hydraulic  society. 

3)  When  independent  active  property  develops  strongly  in  industry 
and  commerce  and  also  in  agriculture,  we  are  faced  with  the  most 
complex  pattern  of  property  to  be  observed  in  hydraulic  society. 
We  shall  call  this  conformation  a  complex  hydraulic  society. 

2.  Supplementary  Remarks 

a.  "Simple  I"  and  "Simple  11" 

How  far  can  private  and  independent  property  advance  in  industry 
and  commerce?  And  when  does  private  ownership  in  land  prevail  over 
all  other  forms  of  land  tenure?  We  shall  attempt  to  answer  both 
questions  when  we  discuss  the  peculiarities  of  semicomplex  and 
complex  configurations  of  Oriental  property. 

Another  question,  however,  must  be  settled  first.  Are  there,  within 
hydraulic  society,  conditions  under  which  professional  representa- 
tives of  industry  and  commerce  are  altogether  absent  or,  for  all  prac- 
tical purposes,  as  good  as  absent?  Such  conditions  do  exist  indeed. 
They  occur  essentially  in  hydraulic  tribes,  which  for  this  and  other 
reasons  represent  the  most  rudimentary  variant  of  a  simple  hydraulic 
society.  We  distinguish  the  tribal  type  of  simple  hydraulic  society, 
"Simple  I,"  from  the  state-centered  type  of  simple  hydraulic  society, 
"Simple  II." 

Table  4.  Patterns  of  Proprietary  Complexity  in  Hydraulic  Society  (Schematized) 




Agriculture  Pursued: 

Industry  and  Commerce  Pursued: 








with  Privately 
Owned  Land 

In  the  Main  '       On  Basis  of  Private 
Professionally      Property  and  in  the 
Main '  Independently 

+  ' 

e                   - 
+                   e 
+                   + 


-J-  Feature  conspicuous 

1.  The  meaning  of  the  qualification  is  explained  in 
the  text,  p.  233. 

—  Feature  inconspicuous  or  absent    2.  The  circle   ©    indicates  a  developmentally  new 

).  Farmer-craftsmen  and  producer- traders. 


b.  Proprietary  Complexity  and  Hydraulic  Density 

Correlations  between  the  patterns  of  proprietary  complexity, 
on  the  one  hand,  and  patterns  of  hydraulic  density,  on  the  other, 
are  less  easily  established.  The  rise  of  property-based  enterprise  and 
social  classes  is  due  to  several  factors,  among  which  hydraulic  density 
is  only  one,  and  one  that  in  a  given  area  tends  to  change  its  quality 
very  slowly  and  usually  only  because  of  changing  relations  with  other 

This,  however,  does  not  imply  the  absence  of  significant  correla- 
tions between  hydraulic  density  and  proprietary  complexity.  Of  the 
two  major  evolutionary  steps  that  hydraulic  property  may  take,  at 
least  the  first — the  transition  from  a  simple  to  a  semicomplex  pattern 
— may  be  greatly  retarded,  if  not  altogether  blocked,  when  the  under- 
lying agrarian  order  is  hydraulically  compact.  Like  the  correlation 
between  the  rise  of  a  state-centered  simple  hydraulic  society  and 
the  advance  of  professional  industry  and  commerce,  this  correlation 
will  be  clarified  when  we  systematically  discuss  the  characteristics  of 
simple,  semicomplex,  and  complex  patterns  of  Oriental  property. 


l.  Nonspecific  Aspects 

Agricultural  tribes  handle  their  property  in  many  different  ways; 
and  this  is  as  true  for  hydraulic  as  for  nonhydraulic  communities.1 
In  the  simpler  farming  communities  of  Melanesia,  South  America, 
and  Africa  "movables  are  privately  owned,  but  not  land."2  Similar 
trends  are  found  also  among  important  North  American  tribes;0 
however,  in  Melanesia  and  West  Africa  a  more  differentiated  pat- 
tern has  made  its  appearance.  "As  a  rule,  land  was  common  property 
of  the  village,  but  in  regard  to  cultivated  land  we  find  the  beginnings 
of  sib,  family,  or  individual  ownership."  3 

Up  to  a  point  conditions  of  land  tenure  are  similar  in  hydraulic 
tribes.  Among  the  smaller  irrigation  tribes  of  equatorial  Africa  land 
can  be  bought  and  sold.  This  is  the  case  among  the  Suk  *  and  the 
Endo.6  Among  the  En-Jemusi  it  was  originally  "marked  out  by  the 
chief,"  but  now,  when  division  after  the  father's  death  excessively 
reduces  an  allotment,  an  owner  can  augment  his  holdings  by  pur- 

a.  The  Iroquois  have  a  saying:  "Land  cannot  be  bought  and  sold,  any  more  than 
water  and  fire  can"  (Lips,  1938:  516). 

CHAPTER    7,    E  233 

chase,  as  do  the  Suk;  or  following  the  earlier  pattern,  he  may  be 
given  additional  fields  by  his  chief.6  In  the  American  Pueblos  com- 
munal patterns  of  land  tenure  prevailed  until  modern  times.  In  the 
Rio  Grande  area  "unused  agricultural  land  reverts  to  the  town,  to 
be  reallotted  by  Town  chief  [cacique]  or  Governor."  7  Among  the 
hydraulically  marginal  Hopi  a  "clan  system  of  land  tenure  was  uni- 
versally in  vogue"; 8  and  the  village  chief,  who  was  "the  theoretical 
owner  of  all  the  village  lands,"  *  asserted  his  authority  "most  fre- 
quently ...  in  the  settlement  of  land  disputes."  10 

Thus  in  both  nonhydraulic  and  hydraulic  small  farming  com- 
munities the  forms  of  land  tenure  vary;  and  the  tendency  toward 
communal  control  is  strong  but  not  universal.  Corresponding  resem- 
blances can  be  discovered  also  with  respect  to  mobile  property. 
Weapons  as  well  as  tools  that  are  used  in  hunting  and  gathering 
are  usually  owned  individually  by  hydraulic  tribesmen;  but  the 
objects  thus  obtained  are  so  perishable  that  their  passing  possession 
does  not  favor  the  development  of  class  distinctions,  whatever  the 
methods  of  distribution. 

Nor,  under  such  conditions,  do  industry  and  trade  lead  to  sig- 
nificant social  differentiations.  This  is  eminently  clear  with  regard 
to  trade.  The  exchange  of  privately  owned  goods  is  undertaken 
privately;  but  this  does  not  require  special  training  or  full-time 
handling.  As  in  the  small  nonhydraulic  farming  communities,  there 
is  trade  in  hydraulic  tribes,  but  there  are  no  professional  traders.6 

2.  Specific  Aspects 

In  industry  conditions  are  not  so  simple.  Property-based  crafts  are 
practiced  primarily  to  satisfy  the  farmers'  personal  needs;  and  those 
who,  because  they  command  particular  skills  or  have  access  to  par- 
ticular materials,  produce  goods  for  exchange  usually  do  so  on  a 
part-time  basis,  their  major  efforts  still  being  devoted  to  agriculture. 
This  is  the  prevailing  pattern  in  both  nonhydraulic  and  hydraulic 
tribes,  and  it  is  a  pattern  that  is  not  fundamentally  altered  by  the 
presence  of  a  few  professional  craftsmen,  such  as  smiths.0 

b.  Among  the  Pueblo  Indians  exchange  between  the  various  villages  or  with  non- 
Pueblo  peoples  is  maintained  by  individuals  (Parsons,  1939,  I:  35;  Beaglehole,  1937: 
81)  or  by  trading  parties  (Parsons,  1939,  I:  34  ff.).  Market-like  gatherings  are  organized, 
usually  by  women  (Beaglehole,  1937:  8a  ff.;  Parsons,  1939,  I:  36  ff.)  and,  it  seems, 
spontaneously  (Beaglehole,  1937:  81  ff.).  For  earlier  conditions  see  Espejo,  1916:  183; 
Bandelier,  FR,  I:  101,  163;  Parsons,  1939,  I:  33  ff.;  Hackett,  1923,  II:  234,  236,  240, 
242  ff.;  for  recent  developments,  see  Parsons,  1939,  I:  34  ff.  For  the  Chagga  see 
Widenmann,  1899:  69;  Gutmann,  1926:  425,  431. 

c.  Beech,  1911:  18.  The  potters  mentioned  by  Beech  (p.  17)  obviously  give  only 
part  of  their  time  to  their  craft. 


Large-scale  constructions  are  a  different  matter.  Small  farming 
communities  of  the  nonhydraulic  type  usually  lack  the  organizational 
integration  for  the  execution  of  such  enterprises;  and  some  hydraulic 
tribes,  such  as  the  Suk  and  the  Endo,  have  not  applied  the  organiza- 
tional methods  they  employ  in  hydraulic  work  to  nonhydraulic  ob- 
jectives, as  the  American  Pueblo  Indians  have  done  with  amazing 
success.  To  be  sure,  the  tools  of  the  Pueblo  builders  were  privately 
owned;  but  their  building  materials  were  secured  under  communal 
leadership,  and  the  work  was  done  by  communal  labor.  Such  arrange- 
ments do  not  promote  a  property-based  private  industry  nor  the 
growth  of  a  group  that  derives  its  strength  from  private  industrial 
property  and  enterprise.  On  the  contrary.  They  clear  the  way  for 
patterns  of  operation  that  retard  the  rise  of  nongovernmental  pro- 
prietary forces  in  industry  as  well  as  in  other  sectors  of  society. 

In  the  sphere  of  hydraulic  works  these  antiproprietary  forces  ap- 
pear regularly.  A  primitive  peasant,  using  his  own  tools,  cultivates 
land  that  may  or  may  not  be  communally  regulated,  and  the  seeds 
for  his  crops  may  belong  to  him  personally  or  to  his  kin  group.  Under 
nonhydraulic  conditions  this  is  the  whole  story.  In  a  hydraulic  setting 
cultivation  proper  follows  a  similar  pattern;  but  the  "preparatory" 
operations  do  not.  The  tools  are  privately  owned,  but  the  raw  ma- 
terials for  making  the  hydraulic  installations  (earth,  stone,  and  per 
haps  timber)  either  are  communal  property — that  is,  owned  by  nobody 
or  everybody — or,  if  they  are  to  be  found  on  land  held  by  a  particular 
individual,  family,  or  clan,  are  taken  over  by  the  community.  And 
the  end  products  of  the  community's  coordinated  effort,  the  ditches 
or  canals,  do  not  become  the  property  of  the  individual  farmers  or 
farming  families  that  participate  in  the  work,  but,  like  the  water 
which  they  carry  to  the  individual  fields,  they  are  controlled  ("owned") 
by  the  community's  governing  agency.'*  This  proprietary  peculiarity 
can  be  discerned  in  the  incipient  hydraulic  communities  of  the  Hill 
Suk,  whose  "irrigation  ditches  are  the  property  of  the  tribe,  not  of 
the  individual."  u  In  the  irrigation  villages  of  the  En-Jemusi  the 
irrigation  ditches  are  also  the  property  of  the  tribe;  12  and  this  is 
equally  the  case  with  the  larger,  communally  built,  irrigation  instal- 
lations of  the  Pueblo  Indians. 

To  evaluate  these  facts  properly  we  must  remember  that  the  com- 
munities discussed  so  far  are  small  farming  societies — that  is,  com- 
munities in  which  the  basic  unit  of  tribal  activity  is  almost  always 
the  village.  In  a  nonhydraulic  setting  the  headmen  of  the  small  units 
do  not,  as  a  rule,  have  authority  over  any  substantial  communally 

d.  Small  ditches  that  require  the  labor  of  only  a  few  individuals  or  a  kin  group  are 
the  property  of  those  who  make  them. 

CHAPTER    7,    E  235 

owned  and  communally  managed  property.  Such  property,  however, 
characterizes  the  hydraulic  village;  and  in  most  cases  it  is  administered 
by  ceremonial  and/or  operational  leaders/ 

This  proprietary  development  has  another  aspect,  which  has  al- 
ready been  noted  but  which  in  the  present  context  assumes  a  new 
significance.  In  small  nonhydraulic  farming  societies  a  headman,  who 
exerts  little  functional  leadership,  does  not  have  his  fields  tilled  for 
him  by  the  community.  Among  small  hydraulic  tribes  the  headman, 
even  when  his  leadership  is  overtly  recognized,  is  not  always  so 
privileged  either/  However,  among  the  Pueblo  Indians,  who  in  most 
cases  combined  a  compact  hydraulic  agriculture  with  large  nonhy- 
draulic constructions,  the  chiefs  fields  were  cultivated  for  him,  even 
in  villages  that  numbered  only  a  few  hundred  inhabitants. 

Among  larger  hydraulic  tribes,  such  as  the  Chagga,  the  existence 
of  the  chief's  fields  cannot  be  considered  specific,  since  such  land 
arrangements  occur  in  large  nonhydraulic  communities.  But  in  large 
hydraulic  tribes  the  chief's  fields  tend  to  be  extensive;  and  work  on 
them  (and  on  the  chief's  houses)  is  done  not  by  a  limited  number  of 
retainers  but  by  all  able-bodied  tribesmen."  Another  proprietary 
peculiarity  is  entirely  specific:  the  chief's  privileged  claim  on  the 
tribe's  irrigation  water.13 

The  extraordinary  concentration  of  land,  water,  agricultural  and 

e.  For  the  Pueblos  the  directing  authority  of  the  cacique  and  the  war  chief  is  well 
established.  The  situation  among  the  Hill  Suk  is  less  clear.  Beech  (1911:  15)  recog- 
nized that  communal  discipline  was  invoked  in  hydraulic  work,  but  he  was  unable  to 
discover  any  directing  secular  leader,  or  for  that  matter  any  religious  leaders: 
"medicine  men"  (ibid.:  xiv,  n.  1).  However,  an  "Elder"  plays  a  prominent  role  in 
two  crucial  agricultural  ceremonies,  one  pertaining  to  the  clearing  of  the  land,  the 
other  to  the  opening  of  the  irrigation  ditches  (ibid.:  15  ff.).  Sir  Charles  Eliot  doubts  the 
validity  of  Beech's  anarchistic  picture  (ibid.:  xiv,  n.  1);  and  he  does  so  by  citing  military 
requirements.  No  doubt  the  need  for  military  leadership  exists  in  almost  all  inde- 
pendent communities,  but  Eliot's  military  argument  would  be  equally  valid  for  the 
small  nonhydraulic  farming  communities,  whose  chiefs  rarely  have  more  than  a 
"purely  representative  position"  (Lips,  1938:  515).  In  the  Pueblos  tribal  leadership 
is  definitely  linked  to  leadership  in  communal  activities,  and  among  them  hydraulic 
work  ranks  first.  Expanding  Eliot's  reservations,  we  suggest  that  the  germs  of  an 
operational  authority  were  present  among  the  Hill  Suk,  particularly  in  the  matter  of 
the  tribe's  most  important  property,  its  hydraulic  installations. 

/.  The  chief  occupies  a  conspicuously  strong  position  among  the  En-Jemusi  (Beech, 
1911:  37),  but  there  is  no  evidence  of  any  public  fields  being  tilled  for  him. 

g.  The  Chagga  chieftain  demands  corvee  labor  from  the  tribe's  adult  males,  from 
the  women,  and  from  the  adolescent  boys.  These  three  groups  work  for  the  chief, 
in  agriculture:  cutting  the  bush  (men),  burning  (men),  hoeing  (women),  watering 
the  seeds  (men),  raking  and  weeding  (women),  irrigating  (men),  and  harvesting 
(women)  (Gutmann,  1926:  376);  in  construction  work:  cutting  and  transporting  timber 
(men),  building  proper  (men),  carrying  of  heavy  loads  of  straw  for  the  roofs  (women), 
bringing  up  material  for  fences,  etc.  (the  "boys")  (ibid.:  376,  368). 


industrial  labor  in  the  hands  of  the  chiefs  does  not  enhance  personal, 
family,  or  clan  ownership.*  It  does  not  benefit  the  social  position  of 
private  craftsmen,  who  in  the  larger  hydraulic  tribes  become  some- 
what more  numerous.4  Nor  does  it  favor  private  professional  mer- 
chants.' Specifically,  it  hampers  the  expansion  of  private  property  in 
what  is  frequently  an  important  secondary  branch  of  the  subsistence 
economy:  herding. 

The  tribal  history  of  many  European  civilizations  shows  how,  in 
an  agrarian  economy,  growing  cattle  wealth  is  a  factor  in  establishing 
societal  leadership.  In  East  Africa  animal  wealth  is  similarly  esteemed; 
and  in  a  predominantly  pastoral  community,  such  as  the  Masai,  this 
wealth,  which  is  eagerly  displayed,14  is  an  essential  means  of  deter- 
mining the  owners'  social  position.*  Not  so  among  the  Chagga.  Cattle, 
which  under  the  peculiar  conditions  of  the  Chagga  area  were  largely 
stall-fed,16  increased  substantially;  and  some  tribesmen  owned  as 
many  as  eighty  head.16  But  in  Chagga  society  the  owners  of  large 
herds  did  not  necessarily  enjoy  a  higher  social  status,  although  they 
certainly  enjoyed  added  material  advantages.  The  Chagga  chieftain, 
thanks  to  his  quasidespotic  powers,  easily  found  a  pretext  for  ac- 

h.  Until  recent  colonial  times  the  bulk  of  all  Chagga  land  was  controlled,  first  by 
the  clans  and  subsequently,  and  increasingly,  by  the  chieftain.  The  clans  yielded  to 
the  chief  some  of  their  authority  over  the  banana  lands,  which  were  probably  the  first 
to  be  cultivated  and  required  some  irrigation  (Gutmann,  1926:  303;  Dundas,  1924: 
300  ff.).  The  fields  of  eleusine  millet,  which  had  always  required  intensive  irrigation 
"are  marked  out  and  allotted  by  the  Chief  himself.  So  are  the  maize  fields  in  the 
plains,  and  this  allotment  is  one  of  the  important  duties  of  the  Chief"  (ibid.:  301).  For 
recent  colonial  developments  in  the  chieftain-controlled  maize  sector  see  Gutmann, 
1926:  307. 

i*.  Among  the  Chagga  the  only  professional  craftsmen  are  the  smith  and  perhaps 
the  tanner  (Widenmann,  1899:  84;  Gutmann,  1909:  ng;  Dundas,  1924:  270  ff.).  The 
smiths  live  in  special  localities  and  they  may  only  marry  women  from  families  of  smiths 
(Widenmann,  1899:  84;  Gutmann,  1909:  ng;  Dundas,  1924:  271). 

;'.  Among  the  Chagga,  even  more  exclusively  than  in  the  Pueblos,  trade  is  in  the 
hands  of  women  (Widenmann,  1899:  69;  Gutmann,  1926:  425). 

k.  Merker,  1904:  28.  Among  the  Pastoral  Suk,  who  "rather  look  down  upon  them 
[the  Agricultural  (Hill)  Suk]  on  account  of  their  poverty"  (Beech,  1911:  15),  cattle 
wealth  seems  to  be  decisive  for  the  establishment  of  communal  prominence.  A  certain 
Karole,  who  had  the  reputation  of  being  the  "richest"  of  the  Suk  (ibid.:  7,  n.  1),  rose 
as  high  politically  as  the  undifferentiated  conditions  of  his  tribe  permitted;  he  became 
his  group's  "most  important  advisor"  (ibid.).  But  the  overt  authority  of  the  "advisors" 
was  extremely  slight;  and  it  is  doubtful  whether,  among  the  Pastoral  Suk,  any  of 
them  exerted  more  power  covertly,  since  no  communal  enterprise  known  to  us  pro- 
vided an  opportunity  for  invoking  generally  accepted  disciplinary  methods.  It  is 
probably  no  accident  that  the  poorer  but  incipiently  hydraulic  Hill  Suk  prosecuted 
persons  who  violated  the  tribal  laws  more  severely  than  did  the  wealthier  plainsmen: 
"The  punishments  for  crime  in  the  hills  are  far  stricter  than  in  the  plains"  (ibid.:  27, 
n.  ,). 

CHAPTER    7,    E  237 

cusing  conspicuous  cattle  owners  of  some  malfeasance  or  other  and 
for  confiscating  some  or  all  of  their  animals."  And  the  Chagga  herders, 
instead  of  boasting  of  their  growing  cattle  wealth,  became  increas- 
ingly secretive  and  fearful.  An  earlier  practice  of  farming  out  cattle 
to  poorer  tribesmen  for  foddering  18  became  a  convenient  device  for 
hiding  their  valuable  but  insecure  property.  The  animals  were  now 
handed  over  to  their  temporary  keepers  furtively  and  by  night;  19  and 
the  owners'  sons,  who  originally  had  played  an  important  role  in 
the  transfer,20  were  at  times  not  even  informed  as  to  where  the  cattle 
were  placed.  Says  Dundas:  "So  secret  does  he  keep  the  whereabouts 
of  his  stock,  that  he  will  not  even  tell  his  sons  where  it  is."  21  This 
trend  gained  strength  with  the  growth  of  chiefly  power,  which  oc- 
curred prior  to  the  establishment  of  colonial  rule.  It  was  further 
aggravated  when,  under  this  rule,  the  chief  started  to  raise  a  general 
cattje  tax.22 

In  this  setting  private  wealth  does  not  necessarily,  or  even  primarily, 
establish  public  prominence."*  Among  the  qualities  that  in  the  earlier 
time  favored  chieftainship,  wealth  probably  was  a  desirable  but  not  a 
necessary  factor;  and  the  chief's  property  certainly  grew  not  in  pro- 
portion to  what  wealth  he  or  his  forefathers  may  have  had  originally 
but  in  proportion  to  his  growing  agromanagerial  and  military  power. 
For  his  aides  the  ruler  chose  men  who  were  prominent  in  their 
locality  23  or — and  increasingly — men  whose  personal  qualifications 
fitted  them  for  the  job.24  In  both  cases  selection  involved  a  conspicu- 
ous improvement  in  the  material  conditions  of  the  chosen,  for  the 
chief  provided  his  serving  men  with  cattle  and  women.25  In  fact, 
Merker  found  that  only  persons  in  government  positions  were  rich.26 

3.  Simple  I  .  .  . 

Manifestly,  hydraulic  tribes  like  nonhydraulic  agrarian  tribes 
develop  private  property.  Both  conformations  present  undifferenti- 
ated forms  of  property  (as  in  handicraft  and  trade)  and  a  trend  to- 
rn. Gutmann  (1909:  7)  says  that  rich  tribesmen  may  withhold  irrigation  water  from 
the  poor,  but  in  a  later  and  more  detailed  study  he  describes  the  equalitarian  way 
in  which  all  members  of  a  given  hydraulic  unit  are  provided  with  water  (1926:  418). 
He  also  refers  to  certain  "nobles"  who  obviously  owned  cattle  and  who  helped  a 
chieftain  obtain  office  (ibid.:  462).  But  no  details  are  given  regarding  this  incident, 
which  occurred  at  the  beginning  of  the  19th  century  (ibid.:  461),  that  is,  before  the 
chief's  leadership  in  communal  affairs  had  been  fully  established.  And  the  clan 
leaders  did  not  owe  their  rank  to  wealth,  though,  once  chosen,  some  of  them  probably 
had  opportunities  for  improving  their  economic  condition  (ibid.:  15).  A  clansman 
became  ceremonial  leader  because  he  was  the  oldest  male  in  the  group  (ibid.:  13),  and 
the  political  leader,  the  "speaker,"  achieved  his  position  on  the  basis  "not  of  his  age, 
nor  of  his  wealth,  but  of  his  political  shrewdness"  (ibid.:  14). 


ward  regulated  forms  (as  in  farming  with  respect  to  land).  At  the  same 
time,  however,  significant  differences  may  be  observed.  Under  hy- 
draulic circumstances,  political  property  already  emerges  in  small 
hydraulically  compact  communities  (the  chiefs  land  in  the  Pueblo 
villages).  In  larger  tribes  political  property  expands  one-sidedly,  and 
it  retards  and  cripples  private  property  in  important  spheres  of  ac- 
tivity (such  as  herding). 

The  difference  between  this  one-sided  accumulation  of  property 
in  the  hands  of  the  governing  authorities  and  the  pluralistic  patterns 
of  proprietary  growth  in  nonhydraulic  agrarian  tribes  reflects  per- 
fectly the  differences  in  the  character  and  weight  of  political  author- 
ity." In  the  German  tribes  observed  by  Caesar  and  Tacitus  the 
chieftain,  although  recognized  as  the  top-ranking  political  leader  and 
expected  to  devote  much  of  his  time  to  his  governmental  duties,  was 
unable  to  restrict  or  tax  the  wealth  of  his  nobles.  Nor  did  he  demand 
corvee  labor  or  taxes  from  his  tribesmen,  who  would  have  considered 
such  a  request  an  insult  and  who,  like  the  nobles,  participated  in  the 
public  discussions  of  the  tribe's  affairs.27 

Thus  in  tribal  hydraulic  societies  property  is  simple,  but  it  is 
simple  with  a  specific  tendency  toward  the  predominance  of  political, 
power-based,  property.  This  tendency  increases  with  the  size  of  the 
community.  It  becomes  decisive  in  simple  hydraulic  commonwealths 
that  are  no  longer  directed  by  a  primitive  (tribal)  government,  but 
by  a  state. 


1.  Statehood  versus  Primitive  Government 

Control  over  a  distinct  territory  has  been  considered  a  basic  aspect 
of  statehood.  This  aspect  is  indeed  essential;  but  it  has  little  value 
in  the  present  context,  since  it  is  not  specific.  (As  a  rule,  primitive 
governments  also  claim  control  over  their  territory.)  Nor  does  the 
criterion  of  sovereignty  help  much.  (Primitive  governments  also 
strive  to  establish  sovereignty;  and  like  states,  they  are  not  always 
able  to.) 

The  differences  between  a  primitive  government  and  a  state  seem 
inconsequential  so  long  as  we  confine  comparison  to  external  rela- 
tions. They  become  significant  when  we  compare  internal  conditions. 

n.  As  elaborated  above,  in  most  nonhydraulic  communities  tribal  coordination  is 
required  mainly  for  military  and  ceremonial  purposes,  whereas  the  heads  of  hydraulic 
tribes,  in  addition  to  exerting  military  and/or  religious  leadership,  fulfill  specific,  vital 
agromanagerial  functions. 

CHAPTER    7,    F  239 

Primitive  governments  are  operated  in  the  main  by  nonprofessionals 
— that  is,  by  functionaries  who  devote  the  bulk  of  their  time  not  to 
the  civil,  military,  or  religious  affairs  of  the  community  but  to  their 
own  hunting,  fishing,  farming,  or  raiding.  States  are  operated  in  the 
main  by  professionals — that  is,  by  functionaries  who  devote  the  bulk 
of  their  time  to  "public"  affairs.  From  the  standpoint  of  human  rela- 
tions a  state  means  government  by  professionals. 

Certain  communal  functions,  such  as  the  maintenance  of  internal 
order  and  the  organization  of  defense,  are  vital  for  the  perpetuation 
of  all  types  of  society.  Consequently,  man's  political  activities  are 
as  essential  as  those  involved  in  the  securing  of  food  and  shelter;  and 
the  professionalizing  of  government  is  as  important  an  aspect  of 
social  differentiation  as  is  the  professionalizing  of  those  economic  or 
intellectual  pursuits  that  under  more  primitive  conditions  are  handled 
only  by  persons  who  are  primarily  engaged  otherwise. 

It  goes  without  saying  that  a  statelike  government  with  its  full- 
time  civil  and  military  officials,  its  soldiery  and  police  can  invest 
much  more  time  and  energy  in  administrative  and  coercive  activities 
than  a  primitive  government.  It  is  this  power  potential  of  the  state 
that  makes  its  control  by  responsible  and  effective  nongovernmental 
forces  the  only  guarantee  against  the  rise  of  a  totally  powerful  (and 
totally  corrupt)  apparatus  state. 

Many  Marxists,  following  Marx'  and  Engels'  interpretation  of  the 
Western  state  and  disregarding  their  stress  on  the  peculiarity  of 
Oriental  despotism,  have  described  "the  state"  as  an  institution  that 
always  serves  the  special  interests  of  a  property-based  ruling  class.  This 
interpretation,  which  today,  in  its  Soviet  version,  is  part  of  an  ex- 
tremely widespread — and  extremely  potent — political  myth,  is  not 
true  even  for  modern  parliamentary  governments,  whose  plutocratic 
potential  it  generalizes  and  whose  capacity  for  growth  and  democ- 
ratization it  denies.  Nor  does  it  fit  the  states  of  Western  absolutism 
and  feudalism,  nor  indeed  the  democratic  states  of  ancient  Greece. 
And  it  is  completely  absurd  when  it  is  applied  to  the  agrarian  and 
industrial  apparatus  states  that  are  characterized  not  by  the  strong 
influence  of  nongovernmental  proprietary  forces  on  the  state,  but 
by  the  abysmal  lack  of  any  such  influence. 

2.  Steps  in  the  Professionalizing  of  Government 

a.  Chagga  Chieftainship  and  the  State  of  Ancient  Hawaii 

The  difference  between  primitive  government  and  statehood  be- 
comes unmistakably  clear  when  we  juxtapose  the  single  full-time  and 


community-supported  leader  of  a  Pueblo  village  and  the  large  staffs 
of  government  functionaries  in  Pharaonic  Egypt,  imperial  China,  or 
Ottoman  Turkey.  The  almost  complete  predominance  of  nonpro- 
fessionals in  the  first  case  is  as  manifest  as  the  almost  complete  pre- 
dominance of  professional  apparatus  men  in  the  second.  The 
difference  is  less  obvious,  but  perhaps  even  more  informative,  when 
we  compare  the  regimes  of  large  hydraulic  tribes,  such  as  the  Chagga, 
with  the  state  of  a  relatively  crude  neolithic  hydraulic  civilization, 
such  as  ancient  Hawaii. 

The  absolutist  acts  of  a  Chagga  chief  are  impressive:  he  kills,  ° 
spies,  seizes  his  subjects'  cattle,6  and  keeps  as  many  girls  as  he  wishes 
in  his  palace."  In  addition  and  more  importantly,  he  is  the  com- 
mander in  chief  of  the  tribe's  laboring  and  fighting  force.*  Neverthe- 
less, his  ability  to  rule  the  lives  of  his  subjects  is  limited  by  the  small 
number  of  his  full-time  functionaries.  Highest  among  them  is  "a 
person  who  may  best  be  described  as  his  prime  minister,  and  on 
whom  much  of  the  executive  work  devolves."  *  Below  this  tribal 
version  of  a  vizier  are  certain  helpers  and  advisors,  akida,2  who  "re- 
ceive the  chief's  orders,  convey  them  to  the  people,  using  for  this 
purpose  special  helpers,  and  supervise  and  organize  their  execution. 
Such  orders  pertain,  for  instance,  to  the  making  and  repairing  of 
canals,  work  for  the  chieftain  .  .  .  payment  of  taxes  and  religious 
affairs."  3  The  akida,  who  are  expected  to  spend  a  considerable  part 
of  their  time  at  the  chief's  palace,*  apparently  have  one  assistant  each;  B 
but  the  professional  officialdom  ends  here.  Clan  heads  may  advise 
the  chief,8  staying  at  his  palace  for  this  very  purpose,  and  most  of 
the  on-the-spot  directing  remains  in  the  hands  of  the  clans.  The 
hornblower,  the  actual  leader  of  the  corve>,  is  selected  by  members  of 
his  clan  and  only  confirmed  by  the  chieftain.7  Obviously,  he  is 
not  a  full-time  salaried  functionary.8 

a.  To  demonstrate  his  loyalty  a  Chagga  dignitary  was  ready  to  burn  his  sister  to 
death  when  ordered  to  do  so  by  his  chieftain  (Gutmann,  1914:  219). 

b.  As  punishment  for  an  alleged  crime,  Chieftain  Mapfuluke  is  said  to  have  seized 
the  cattle  of  one  of  his  fathers-in-law.  Later,  and  quite  unexpectedly,  he  returned  some 
part  of  them  (Gutmann,  1914:  231). 

c.  Gutmann  (1926:  388  ft.)  estimates  that,  in  one  instance,  the  chieftain  assembled 
from  among  rank-and-file  families  more  than  5  per  cent  of  all  girls.  These  young 
females  were  then  assigned  to  his  wives;  but  the  chieftain  maintained  his  sexual  rights 
over  all  of  them:  "None  of  the  girls  entered  marriage  untouched,  the  chieftain  used 
them  as  he  pleased." 

d.  The  Chagga  chieftain  makes  the  supreme  decisions  concerning  the  hydraulic 
corvee  and  other  large-scale  secular  enterprises.  He  commands  his  tribesmen  in  war; 
he  assigns  residences  to  all;  and  he  fixes  the  dates  for  sowing  and  harvesting  (Gutmann, 
1909:  25). 

CHAPTER    7,    F  241 

Nor  does  the  chieftain  have  at  his  disposal  professional  guards  or 
policemen.  The  warriors  who  protect  his  person — and  this  is  par- 
ticularly demanded  at  night — are  ordinary  members  of  the  tribe  who 
return  home  after  their  shifts  are  done.9 

The  supreme  head  of  the  Chagga  government  is  occasionally  re- 
ferred to  as  a  "monarch"  or  "king."  e  However,  the  majority  of  all 
observers  designate  him  as  "chieftain."  10  Conversely,  the  ancient 
Hawaiian  rulers  are  sometimes  called  "chiefs,"  but  in  more  scholarly 
treatises  they  are  designated  as  "kings."  The  preferred  titles  reflect 
the  general  conviction  that  the  Chagga  ruler  presides  over  a  more 
primitive  type  of  government  than  does  his  Hawaiian  counterpart. 
This  conviction  seems  well  founded.  In  the  first  case  we  are  faced 
with  a  primitive  government  that  has  elements  of  incipient  state- 
hood, in  the  second  with  a  crude  but  genuine  state. 

The  Hawaiian  kings  disposed  over  a  much  more  differentiated 
staff  of  top-ranking  aides  than  did  the  Chagga  chieftains.  In  addition 
to  a  chief  councilor,  the  Hawaiian  ruler  had  a  chief  war  leader,  a 
chief  steward,  a  treasurer,  and  "land  experts."  X1  There  is  no  evidence 
that  clan  heads  acted  as  his  advisors  or  that  his  guards  served  part 
time.  Besides  a  "body  guard,"  the  king  had  at  his  beck  and  call  a 
detachment  of  armed  men  headed  by  an  executioner — official  ter- 
rorizes who  were  always  ready  in  the  king's  name  to  accuse,  arrest, 
and  kill.12 

In  the  Hawaiian  government  the  professionals  were  not  confined 
to  the  top  echelon.  Below  the  leading  officials  there  were  primarily 
and  most  importantly  the  konohiki.  In  contrast  to  the  Chagga  akida, 
who  spent  much  of  their  time  near  their  chieftain,  the  konohiki 
seem  to  have  resided  and  officiated  for  the  most  part  in  the  regions 
of  their  jurisdiction,  directing  the  regime's  constructional,  organiza- 
tional, and  acquisitive  operations.  They  kept  count  of  the  popula- 
tion; 13  they  mobilized  the  corvee;  "  they  directed  the  hydraulic  enter- 
prises; 15  they  supervised  agriculture;  16  they  gathered  the  tax,17 
retaining  some  of  it  for  their  own  use  and  for  the  use  of  their  under- 
lings, but  passing  on  most  of  it  to  the  higher  authorities,  and  eventu- 
ally to  the  king.18 

Manifestly,  the  konohiki  and  their  aides  were  government-sup- 
ported full-time  functionaries.  The  organizational  and  acquisitive 
network  that  they  spread  over  the  countryside  probably  contributed 
more  than  any  other  political  institution  to  making  the  government 
of  ancient  Hawaii  a  crude,  agrobureaucratic  hydraulic  state. 

e.  Gutmann,  1909:   10  ff.  Lowie  (1938:  30s)  calls  him  the  head  of  a  "monarchical 



b.  Proprietary  Consequences 

Controlling  a  much  more  fertile  territory  and  a  much  larger 
population — the  largest  Hawaiian  kingdom  had  five  times  the  popu- 
lation of  the  largest  Chagga  tribe ' — the  Hawaiian  rulers  were  in 
a  better  position  to  establish  and  maintain  a  permanent  officialdom. 
And  this  larger  officialdom  in  turn  enabled  them  to  control  their 
subjects'  property  more  completely.  In  Hawaii  the  government's 
jurisdiction  over  the  land  was  not  restricted  by  any  clan  rights,  as 
was  the  case  among  the  Chagga.19  Nor  did  a  clan  head  stand  between 
tax-collecting  officials  and  individual  taxpayers,  as  in  Chaggaland.20 
Indeed  the  Hawaiian  regime  functioned  so  well  that  the  masters  of 
the  apparatus  state  were  able  to  syphon  off  over  half  of  the  entire 
rural  produce.  According  to  one  estimate,  "the  common  laborers  did 
not  receive  on  an  average  more  than  one  third  of  the  avails  of  their 
industry."  g 

On  a  smaller  scale  the  difference  between  the  two  types  of  govern- 
ment appear  also  in  the  sphere  of  circulation.  The  Chagga  markets 
were  policed  by  the  chief's  wives  and  regional  officials;  21  but  a  mar- 
ket tax  on  agricultural  products  and  salt  was  collected  by  a  member 
of  one  particular  clan."  In  Hawaii  we  find  no  trace  of  such  divided 
authority.  The  functionaries  who  sanctioned  the  transactions  and 
taxed  the  goods  were  toll  collectors — that  is,  government  officials.22 

Thus  the  kings  of  Hawaii  exerted  a  much  more  formidable  power 

/.  In  the  18th  century  some  300,000  Hawaiians  were  organized  in  a  few  sovereignties, 
the  largest  of  which,  Hawaii  proper,  numbered  more  than  85,000  people  (Lind,  1938: 
60).  Lind's  figure  harmonizes  well  with  an  estimate  made  by  Ellis  in  1826  (Ellis, 
1826:  8).  Ellis  considered  the  total  of  400,000  inhabitants  suggested  by  the  earliest 
observers  "somewhat  above  the  actual  population  of  that  time,  though  traces  of 
deserted  villages,  and  numerous  enclosures  formerly  cultivated,  but  now  lying  waste, 
are  everywhere  to  be  met  with."  In  1826  there  were  between  130,000  to  150,000  people 
on  the  archipelago  (Ellis,  1826:  8).  Fornander,  although  suggesting  smaller  figures  than 
Cook  and  King,  sees  "no  valid  reasons  for  assuming  a  greater  or  more  rapid  depopula- 
tion between  1778  and  1832,  when  the  first  regular  census  taken  gave  an  approximately 
correct  enumeration  of  130,000  than  between  the  latter  year  and  1878,  when  the 
census  gave  only  44,088,  exclusive  of  foreigners"  (Fornander,  PR,  II:  165).  At  the 
beginning  of  the  19th  century  Bali  had  a  population  of  about  760,000  persons,  with 
some  of  the  island's  major  kingdoms  accounting  for  more  than  100,000  persons  each 
(Lauts,  1848:  104-5).  Tlie  largest  Chagga  tribes  numbered  less  than  20,000,  10,000,  or 
5,000  persons  respectively  (Gutmann,  1926:  1). 

g.  Alexander,  1899:  28  n.  Blackman  (1899:  26)  presents  this  estimate  as  "the 
opinion  of  careful  observers." 

h,  Gutmann,  1926:  426  ff.  The  clan  functionary  grasps  a  handful  of  taxable  goods. 
The  trading  women  have  the  right  to  kick  him  once;  but  they  cannot  prevent  him 
from  seizing  the  fee,  which  "at  a  well  attended  market  amounts  to  fairly  sizable 
loads"  (ibid.:  427). 

CHAPTER    7,    F  843 

over  their  subjects'  life  and  property  than  did  the  Chagga  chieftains. 
Difference  in  the  form  of  reverence  strikingly  expresses  the  difference 
in  autocratic  power.  As  already  mentioned,  the  Chagga  tribesmen 
hold  their  ruler  in  great  esteem,  but  unlike  the  Hawaiians  they  do 
not  perform  before  him  the  classical  gesture  of  total  submission: 

3.  Simple  Patterns  of  Property  in  Land,  Industry, 
and  Commerce 

In  the  early  phases  of  state-centered  hydraulic  societies,  private  prop- 
erty in  land  is  not  necessarily  lacking;  its  origins  go  back  much 
further  than  was  assumed  by  the  pioneer  institutionalists  of  the  19th 
century.  But  the  greater  part  of  all  cultivable  land  is  regulated,  and 
thus  kept  from  being  privately  owned,  even  after  private  and  inde- 
pendent property  emerged  notably  in  industry  and  commerce.  For 
this  reason,  we  shall  discuss  the  problems  of  hydraulic  land  tenure 
later.  With  respect  to  the  simple  patterns  of  hydraulic  property  we 
need  only  state  here  that,  within  the  framework  of  these  patterns, 
the  forms  of  land  tenure  are  many  but  that  regulated  land  always 
prevails  (and  generally  by  a  substantial  margin)  over  privately  owned 
("free")  land. 

Property-based  and  independent  handicraft  and  commerce,  how- 
ever, must  be  examined  immediately,  for  their  occurrence  makes, 
as  we  see  it,  a  change  in  the  patterns  of  property  and  society.  This 
development  is  not  uniform. 
It  advances  unevenly  in  the  spheres  of 

A.  Industry,  in 

1.  The  extractive  industries   (mining,   quarrying,  certain 

forms  of  salt  production) 

2.  The  processing  industries 

a.  Constructions 

b.  Others 
and  also  in 

B.  Commerce,  in 

1.  Foreign  trade 

2.  Domestic  trade,  dealing  with 

a.  Easily  supervised  goods  (such  as  salt,  iron,  tea,  wine, 
oil,  etc.) 

b.  Others. 

In  all  hydraulic  societies  proper  and  in  most  marginal  hydraulic 
societies,  the  government  engaged  in  comprehensive  constructions. 
Employing  a  large  labor  force,  the  agrarian  apparatus  state  enjoys 
what  amounts  to  a  monopoly  of  all  large-scale  construction  work. 


Often  it  also  manages  those  extractive  operations  which  provide  the 
bulk  of  all  raw  materials  for  the  large  government  constructions. 
Other  extractive  industries,  such  as  mining  and  certain  forms  of 
salt  production,  may  either  be  directly  managed  by  the  government 
or,  and  particularly  under  the  conditions  of  a  money  economy,  they 
may  be  controlled  through  monopolistic  licensing. 

Thus  property-based  and  independent  action  cannot  hope  to  pre- 
vail in  the  most  important  sector  of  hydraulic  industry:  large-scale 
constructions.  Nor  can  it  hope  to  operate  freely  in  the  large  extractive 
enterprises.  Only  in  the  nonconstructional  sector  of  the  processing 
industries  is  there  a  chance  for  property-based  free  handicraft  to 
become  significant.  Indeed,  apart  from  the  making  of  coins,  only 
a  few  manufacturing  pursuits,  such  as  the  production  of  weapons 
and  certain  luxury  goods,  may  be  directly  managed  by  the  govern- 
ment, while  most  other  crafts  are  handled  entirely  by  private  and 
independent  entrepreneurs. 

Free  private  enterprise,  however,  does  not  necessarily  mean  large 
enterprise.  Large-scale  industries  are  extremely  vulnerable  on  the 
fiscal  level,  and  except  for  government-protected  units  do  not  prosper 
under  the  shadow  of  total  power.  The  many  private  and  independent 
crafts  which  have  emerged  in  certain  hydraulic  societies  are  essentially 
confined  to  small  shops  and  small-scale  operations. 

The  development  of  private  big  trade  may  be  retarded  under 
conditions  of  great  hydraulic  and  bureaucratic  density  (compact- 
ness), but  it  is  not  blocked  by  the  state's  managerial  predomi- 
nance, which,  with  regard  to  the  construction  industries,  appears  in 
all  hydraulic  societies  proper  and  also  in  many  marginal  hydraulic 
societies.  Above  the  level  of  the  producer-trader,  commercial  business 
is  transacted  over  significant  distances,  either  overland  or  oversea. 
This  favors  large-scale  action,  particularly  since  the  merchandise  so 
handled  is  less  conspicuous  and  therefore  less  vulnerable  fiscally  than 
a  fixed  and  conspicuous  industrial  plant. 

When  the  law  of  diminishing  administrative  returns  induces  a 
state  to  limit  its  own  commercial  operations,  independent  merchants 
tend  to  appear  both  in  foreign  and  domestic  trade;  and  governmental 
attempts  to  maintain  direct  and  indirect  controls  in  both  sectors  at 
a  particular  level  or  to  restore  them  to  an  earlier  level  are  based  for 
the  most  part  on  short-range  considerations.* 

i.  This  is  why  government  policy  in  this  regard  in  China,  India,  and  the  Near  East 
oscillated  so  considerably.  The  student  of  Chinese  history  will  recall  the  discussions 
which  Han  administrators  conducted  concerning  the  way  in  which  the  sale  of  salt 
and  iron  should  be  handled.  The  problem  arose  in  pre-Han  days,  and  different 
solutions  were  found  at  different  times.  The  administrative  history  of  India  is  not 

CHAPTER    7,    F  245 

Hydraulic  society  outgrows  the  simple  patterns  of  property,  when 
private  and  independent  handicraft  becomes  prominent  in  the  pro- 
cessing industries  (excluding,  of  course,  large-scale  construction)  and 
when  big  and  independent  merchants  handle  as  much  or  more  busi- 
ness than  all  government-managed  and  government-controlled  com- 
merce taken  together. 

The  almost  complete  absence  of  pertinent  statistical  data  compels 
us  to  formulate  our  criteria  broadly.  In  some  branches  the  relative 
proportions  are  evident.  In  others  we  can  at  least  establish  prevailing 

4.  Variants  of  Simple  Patterns  of  Hydraulic 
Property  and  Society 

a.  Hawaii 

The  Hawaiian  archipelago  is  so  distant  from  the  more  southerly 
regions  of  the  Polynesian  world  that  after  an  early  period  of  daring 
expeditions,  "all  intercourse  with  the  southern  groups  seems  to  have 
ceased,  for  there  is  no  further  evidence  of  it  in  any  of  the  ancient 
legends,  songs,  or  genealogies  for  five  hundred  years."  23 

Nor  were  the  relations  between  the  various  Hawaiian  kingdoms 
sufficient  to  stimulate  the  development  of  commerce  above  the  pro- 
ducer-trader level.21  Internal  circulation  consisted  in  the  main  in 
the  transfer  of  rural  surpluses  from  the  peasant  and  fishermen  pro- 
ducers to  the  local  and  central  representatives  of  the  government. 
Exchange  between  individuals  occurred  either  in  the  form  of 
"gifts"  25  or  barter;  26  and  in  both  instances  without  the  aid  of  pro- 
fessional middlemen.  Markets  and  fairs  provided  ample  opportunity 
for  such  activity.  Ellis'  descriptions  of  what  was  then  considered 
the  most  famous  fair  makes  no  reference  at  all  to  any  professional 
merchants.  The  only  professional  person  noted  by  the  observer 
was  the  government  official  who  supervised  and  taxed  the  transac- 
tions between  the  barterers.27  When,  in  the  early  19th  century,  con- 
tact with  the  outside  world  opened  up  a  new  outlet  for  sandalwood, 
it  was  the  king  and  his  lieutenants  and  not  independent  private 

so  well  documented  as  that  of  China,  but  what  we  know  about  Indian  fiscal  policy 
suggests  similar  oscillations. 

The  history  of  state  and  private  commerce  in  the  great  hydraulic  countries  of  the 
Near  East  is  still  in  its  infancy;  and  attempts,  such  as  that  made  recently  by  Leemans, 
reveal  the  institutional  importance  of  this  phenomenon  as  well  as  the  difficulties  of 
investigating  it.  The  Near  Eastern  data  show  again  that  in  contrast  to  the  great 
hydraulic  works  and  the  big  nonhydraulic  constructions,  large-scale  commerce  can 
readily  be  handled  by  private  and  independent  merchants. 



Hawaiian  merchants  who  handled  the  resulting  international  trade. 

The  undeveloped  conditions  of  circulation  reflect  the  undeveloped 
industrial  conditions,  and  these  in  turn  are  closely  connected  with 
the  paucity  of  suitable  raw  materials.  The  volcanic  islands  of  Hawaii 
lack  metals;  and  this  deficiency  kept  the  islanders,  as  long  as  they 
were  separated  from  technically  more  advanced  civilizations,  at  a 
relatively  crude  level  of  neolithic  life.  The  archipelago  had  useful 
plants  (such  as  taro  and  the  coconut  tree)  but  none  of  the  world's 
major  cereals;  and  there  were  no  animals  that  could  be  used  to  ease 
man's  labors.  Lava  was  the  only  important  workable  stone. 

The  technical  skill  which  the  Hawaiians  developed  in  this  natural 
and  cultural  setting  was  admirable.29  However,  even  maximum  in- 
genuity produced  only  a  modest  differentiation  in  the  crafts.  Special- 
ists built  canoes  30  and  houses,31  made  nets,  fish  lines,  tapa  cloth,32 
and  many  other  articles,33  yet  the  economic  and  political  position 
of  these  artisans  is  none  too  clear.  A  number  of  them  may  well  have 
worked  for  their  own  account.'  But  neither  Hawaiian  tradition  nor 
early  non-Hawaiian  observers  suggest  that  these  private  artisans 
could  compare  in  importance  with  the  craftsmen  who  served  the 
king  and  his  functionaries.  The  government,  which  controlled  an 
enormous  percentage  of  the  country's  surplus,  was  able  to  support 
many  artisans,  poe  lawelawe.  The  supreme  poe  lawelatoe  was  a  mem- 
ber of  the  central  government.34  He  seems  to  have  directed  the  in- 
dustrial activities  undertaken  for  the  benefit  of  the  government  and 
obviously  through  the  use  of  corvee  labor.  In  addition,  he  was  in 
charge  of  the  numerous  artisans  who  were  permanently  attached  to 
the  court.  Says  Kepelino:  "At  the  chief's  [king's]  place  there  were 
many  workers  or  Poe- lawelawe  of  every  description."  35 

Thus  in  ancient  Hawaii  professional  artisans  appeared  most  signifi- 
cantly as  persons  who,  supported  by  the  government,  worked  under 
government  functionaries  for  the  ruler  and  his  serving  men.  This 
constellation,  together  with  the  complete  absence  of  independent 
professional  merchants,  created  in  ancient  Hawaii  a  very  rudimen- 
tary variant  of  simple  patterns  of  hydraulic  property  and  society. 

b.  Inca  Peru 

The  masters  of  the  Inca  empire  drew  upon  natural  resources  that 
were  richer  than  those  of  Hawaii  but  poorer  than  those  of  Egypt, 
Mesopotamia,  China,  or  India.  The  agriculturists  of  the  Andean  area 
entered  the  metal  age  at  a  relatively  late  date;  and  even  then  they 
did  not  process  iron.  Nor  did  they  domesticate  animals  for  use  in 
farming.  To  be  sure,  in  hydraulic  civilizations  the  absence  of  labor 

;'.  Several  trades  had  special  patron  gods  (Alexander,   1899:   37,  62  ff.;   Blackman, 
1899:  38). 




















CHAPTER    7,    F  247 

animals  is  of  less  importance  to  crop-raising  k  than  to  transporta- 
tion, which  is  basic  to  the  spread  of  military  and  political  control, 
to  the  collection  of  taxes,  and  to  the  growth  of  trade.  However, 
compared  with  the  donkey,  the  mule,  the  ox,  the  horse,  and  the 
camel — the  chief  labor  animals  of  the  Old  World — the  llama,  al- 
though useful  for  its  wool,  was  a  poor  instrument  of  locomotion. 
The  absence  of  navigable  rivers,  in  addition  to  a  rugged  coastline, 
discouraged  experiments  in  shipping,  except  on  primitive  rafts;  and 
a  scarcity  of  culturally  advanced  neighbors  discouraged  international 
trade  much  more  decisively  than  was  the  case  in  Pharaonic  Egypt. 

Table  5.  Factors  Stimulating  Commerce  and  Regional  Division  of 

Labor  in  Industry 


Inca  Peru 

Pharaonic  Egypt  (particularly  the 

Old  and  Middle  Kingdoms) 
The  various  states  of  ancient  China 

Key  1.  The  ox  was  used  for  plowing  only 

-f     Present  at  the  close  of  the  Chou  period. 

—     Absent 
(    )  Development  limited 

Our  analysis  has  revealed  a  number  of  factors  that  stimulate  com- 
merce and  regional  division  of  labor  in  industry.  We  indicate  in 
Table  5  the  uneven  development  of  these  factors  for  a  number  of 
major  simple  hydraulic  civilizations.  Although  by  no  means  the  only 
formative  features,  they  aid  us  in  recognizing  the  uneven  develop- 
ment of  trade  and  industry  in  these  civilizations. 

In  the  Andean  area  transportation  was  further  discouraged  by 
the  desert-like  conditions  in  large  segments  of  the  coast  and  by  the 
high  and  steep  elevations  in  the  strategically  located  mountain  re- 
gions. For  all  these  reasons,  effective  and  long-distance  communica- 
tion proceeded  essentially  on  land  and  not  on  water;  and  it  depended 

k.  An  approach  which  recognizes  the  crucial  role  of  hydraulic  operations  in  the 
development  of  agriculture  cannot  be  content  with  Lowie's  otherwise  suggestive 
typology  of  subsistence  economies:  "hunting,  farming  with  hoe  or  dibble,  farming 
with  plow  and  livestock,  and  stockbreeding  without  farming  (pastoral  nomadism)" 
(Lowie,  1938:  283).  The  Near  East,  India,  and  China  shared  the  plow  and  labor 
animals  with  Europe  and  Japan;  and  the  reason  for  the  differences  between  the 
stationary  hydraulic  civilizations  and  other  agrarian  civilizations  that  were  not 
stationary  must  therefore  be  looked  for  elsewhere,  and  most  decisively,  it  would  seem, 
in  the  presence  or  absence  of  hydraulic  agriculture. 


to  an  extraordinary  degree  on  roads  that  were  built  and  controlled 
by  the  omnipotent  hydraulic  state.  There  were  a  few  foreign-mer- 
chants; 36  and  some  of  the  trade  in  salt  and  fish  reported  for  the 
northern  border  zone  37  may  have  been  handled  by  professionals. 
But  such  developments  were  so  peripheral  and  of  so  little  importance 
that  serious  scholars,  such  as  Means,  have  completely  overlooked 
their  occurrence.  Within  the  empire  government  officials  directed 
the  transfer  of  enormous  quantities  of  goods — corn,  beans,  cotton, 
timber,  metal,  textiles,  etc. — along  the  coast,  on  the  altiplano,  and 
from  one  zone  to  the  other;  and  small  producer-traders  exchanged 
products  by  barter  at  the  many  fairs  that  were  held  regularly  through- 
out the  country.38  But  there  is  no  evidence  that  any  private  agency 
competed  with  the  government  in  long-distance  transportation  and 
distribution  of  goods.  Trade  there  was,  and  on  a  local  level  obviously 
plenty  of  it.  But  there  were  almost  no  independent  professional 

The  industrial  sphere  of  Inca  life  was  much  more  differentiated, 
but  the  private  artisans  remained  inconspicuous  in  comparison 
with  government-employed  craftsmen.  The  mines  were  managed 
either  by  the  local  heads  of  formerly  independent  territories  or  by 
nonlocal  members  of  the  imperial  officialdom."1  In  both  cases  they 
were  controlled  by  professional  officeholders  who,  in  one  way  or 
another,  were  part  of  the  over-all  agromanagerial  apparatus. 

More  precise  information  exists  concerning  certain  aspects  of  the 
processing  industries.  The  large  construction  teams  were  directed 
by  prominent  Inca  functionaries;  and  the  work  patterns  of  Hawaii, 
Pharaonic  Egypt,  and  early  China  suggest  that  here,  too,  special 
officials  may  have  been  in  charge  of  the  permanent  government 
workers  and  those  craftsmen  who,  for  two  months  or  "at  most"  three 
months,"  rendered  industrial  labor  service  in  the  state  workshops. 
Among  the  permanent  craftsmen  that  the  government  occupied 
there  were  apparently  many  silversmiths39  and  also  not  a  few  car- 
penters.40 Weavers,  shoemakers,  lumbermen,  and  makers  of  copper 
tools  are  mentioned  as  working  at  home  after  having  fulfilled  their 
corvee  obligations.41  Garcilaso's  description  does  not  make  it  clear 
whether  all,  or  most,  of  these  last  worked  exclusively  at  their  speciali- 
ties or  whether  some — or  even  most  of  them — were  farmer-artisans. 
If  we  assume  that  most  of  them  were  professional  craftsmen,  it  is 
even  more  noteworthy  that  the  early  accounts  of  rural  and  urban 

m.  Local  mining  of  gold  in  accordance  with  directions  from  Cuzco  is  indicated  by 
Polo  de  Ondegardo  (1872:  70  ff.).  Cf.  Cieza,  1945:  269;  Sarmiento,  1906:  100;  Rowe, 
1946:  246;  Garcilaso,  1945, 1:  253;  Sancho  de  la  Hos,  1938:  181. 

n.  Notable  overtime  was  deducted  from  the  following  year's  corvfe  labor  (Garcilaso, 
1945,  I:  255). 

CHAPTER    7,    F  249 

life  do  not  mention  them.  It  was  only  as  permanent  workers  for 
the  state  or  as  members  of  the  industrial  corvee  that  the  artisans 
became  a  conspicuous  feature  of  Inca  society. 

The  "virgins,"  who  were  selected  by  officials  from  among  the 
young  and  attractive  females  of  the  empire,  provided  the  regime 
with  a  unique,  but  eminently  useful,  labor  force.  The  "Selected 
Ones"  were  kept  under  strict  supervision  in  special  houses,  where 
they  spent  the  greater  part  of  their  time  weaving,  spinning,42  and 
preparing  beverages.0  The  sovereign  included  some  of  them  in  his 
harem;  and  he  assigned  others  to  prominent  dignitaries.  But  there 
were  always  large  numbers  of  them  confined  to  the  "houses."  Ap- 
parently there  were  many  such  establishments  in  the  Inca  empire: 
some  had  two  hundred  inmates,43  the  one  in  Caxa  had  five  hundred,4* 
the  one  on  Lake  Titicaca  one  thousand,45  and  the  one  in  Cuzco 
usually  more  than  fifteen  hundred.46  Economically,  the  Inca  "houses" 
constitute  an  interesting  parallel  to  the  textile  shops  of  17th-  and 
18th-century  Europe.  Few  of  these  latter  employed  more  persons, 
and  those  employed  were  in  the  main  women,  who  often  worked 
only  part  of  the  year.47 

Despite  a  not  inconsiderable  technical  development,  Inca  society 
developed  no  conspicuous,  independent,  private-property-based 
classes.  The  sinecure  land,  which  the  Incas  assigned  to  certain  mem- 
bers of  the  ruling  group,  created  no  full-fledged  landownership;  48 
and  professional  private  enterprises  were  virtually  absent  in  the 
spheres  of  transport  and  trade,  which  in  other  civilizations  favored 
the  rise  of  independent  rich  merchants.  Professional  private  artisans, 
who  certainly  existed,  remained  an  insignificant  force  even  in  the 
processing  industries,  when  compared  with  the  numerous  craftsmen 
who  permanently  or  temporarily  practiced  their  skills  in  the  govern- 
ment workshops  and  "houses."  An  interesting  if  feeble  trend  toward 
private  handicraft  notwithstanding,  the  Inca  empire  represents  a 
simple  pattern  of  hydraulic  property  and  society. 

o.  CPLNC:  309.  The  two  Spaniards  who  gave  Sancho  de  la  Hos  (1938:  181)  a  first- 
hand report  on  the  Lake  Titicaca  temple  mentioned  only  the  preparation  of  sacred 
wine  by  the  women,  if  the  chronicler  recorded  their  story  correctly.  But  whatever  the 
accuracy  of  the  initial  report,  it  seems  most  unlikely  that  the  thousand  "selected" 
women  of  the  Lake  Temple  made  nothing  but  chicha  the  year  round,  and  this  in  the 
classical  region  of  llama-breeding  and  wool  production.  Our  doubts  are  strengthened 
by  The  Anonimo's  comment  on  the  dual  activities  of  the  women  at  Caxa  (CPLNC: 
309)  and  by  Garcilaso's  description  of  the  institution  in  the  Inca  capital.  Obviously 
the  virgins  also  had  to  prepare  chicha  and  certain  ceremonial  foodstuffs,  but  their 
main  operation  (il  principal  exercicio)  was  spinning  and  weaving  (Garcilaso,  1945, 
I:  188  ff.).  There  were  many  other  houses  of  the  same  kind  throughout  the  country. 
Their  inmates  engaged  in  the  same'  economic  activities.  They  "spun  and  wove  and 
made  an  enormous  amount  of  cloth  for  the  Inca"  (ibid.:  189). 


c.  Pharaonic  Egypt 

A  uniquely  serviceable  river  provided  the  masters  of  Pharaonic 
Egypt  with  excellent  facilities  for  internal  communication;  shipping 
was  therefore  well  advanced  at  the  dawn  of  written  history.  But 
scarcity  of  raw  materials  did  not  necessitate  a  regular  foreign  trade; 
nor  was  such  trade  stimulated  by  culturally  advanced  neighbors.  The 
Egyptian  ships  and  beasts  of  burden  permitted  the  establishment  of 
some  external  contacts,  but  these  contacts  remained  intermittent — 
and  essentially  government  managed — until  the  close  of  the  Middle 

During  the  New  Kingdom,  and  particularly  in  the  days  of  the 
empire,  private  merchants  emerged.  But  often  they  Were  attached 
to  the  temples  49  and  apparently  they  were  no  match  for  the  state. 
According  to  Kees,  during  a  great  part  of  the  New  Kingdom  the 
Pharaoh  remained  "the  only  big  merchant."  50 

To  be  sure,  foreign  merchants  did  business  in  Egypt,  but  native 
middlemen  were  given  even  less  opportunity  in  domestic  than  in 
foreign  trade.51  In  the  local  markets  producer-traders  exchanged  their 
goods  directly,  and  in  the  main  by  barter.52  A  market  official  of  the 
New  Kingdom  significantly  bore  the  title  "Scribe  of  Barter."  53 

Handicraft  offered  more  room  for  the  development  of  private 
enterprise.  No  matter  to  what  extent  the  census  data  of  the  Old 
Kingdom  imply  the  presence  of  independent  trades  during  that 
period,p  the  cases  of  Hawaii  and  Inca  Peru  show  that  professional 
artisans  operated  in  state-centered  hydraulic  societies  that  were  tech- 
nically less  advanced  than  the  Old  Kingdom.  And  a  number  of 
records  from  the  Middle  and  the  New  Kingdom  definitely  speak  of 
private  artisans.8* 

These  Egyptian  private  artisans  were  more  conspicuous  than  their 
colleagues  in  the  Inca  empire;  but,  like  them,  they  probably  catered 
essentially  to  the  every-day  needs  of  small  consumers.55  Did  they,  at 
least  numerically,  equal  the  many  craftsmen  who  in  the  processing 
industries  were  permanently  or  temporarily  employed  by  the  govern- 
ment and  the  temples?  Even  this  is  not  certain.  But  there  can  be 
little  doubt  that  economically  they  were  less  significant. 

The  government  engaged  particularly  in  three  kinds  of  industrial 
work:  (1)  extractive  and  preparatory  operations  requiring  much 
labor,  some  of  it  skilled,  but  most  of  it  unskilled;  (2)  big  construction 
enterprises,  requiring  a  combination  of  skilled  and  unskilled  labor; 
and  (3)  processing  industries,  carried  out  in  the  main  by  skilled 

p.  Kees  (1933:    164  ff.)  hesitates  to  accept  E.  Meyer's  interpretation  of  these  data 
as  proving  the  existence  of  free  artisans  and  merchants. 

CHAPTER    7,    F  251 

craftsmen  who  were  gathered  together  in  larger  or  smaller  workshops. 

In  all  three  sectors  the  skilled  craftsmen,  who  included  artists  of 
great  ability,56  seem  to  have  been  largely  government  employees.  The 
"chiefs  of  work"  57  probably  had  supreme  jurisdiction  over  them.  In 
the  branch  industries  they  operated  under  specially  designated  fore- 

On  the  basis  of  carefully  weighed  evidence  Kees  concludes  that  "the 
economic  life  of  [Pharaonic]  Egypt  constituted  a  not  very  appropriate 
soil  for  an  estate  of  independent  free  artisans."  59  He  finds  the  con- 
cept of  free  handicraft,  except  for  lowly  producers  who  satisfied 
lowly  needs,  "poorly  suited  for  the  economic  picture  of  the  Old 
Kingdom."  60  After  the  interlude  of  the  Middle  Kingdom,  during 
which  territorial  courts  became  outstanding  centers  of  the  arts  and 
crafts,61  the  New  Kingdom  increasingly  forced  the  artisans  into  state- 
regulated  workshops  and  subjected  them  to  the  rigid  control  of  the 
state  storehouses  that  allocated  the  raw  materials.62 

Documents  from  the  New  Kingdom  show  the  state  artisans  eager 
for  promotion  to  higher  posts.  Their  foremen  considered  themselves 
fairly  distinguished  members  of  the  bureaucratic  hierarchy.63 

To  summarize:  the  power  of  the  Pharaohs  was  so  all  embracing 
that  private  and  independent  handicraft  made  little  headway,  and 
independent  professional  commerce  during  the  greater  part  of  the 
period  even  less.  The  prevalence  of  state  trade  and  the  weight  of 
government-managed  industry,  together  with  the  dominance  of  state- 
regulated  landed  property  created — and  maintained — in  Pharaonic 
Egypt  a  historically  and  institutionally  significant  variant  of  the 
simple  pattern  of  hydraulic  property  and  society. 

d.  Ancient  China 

The  most  archaic  Chinese  inscriptions,  the  divination  texts  of  the 
Shang  dynasty,  mention  sets  of  shells,  which  in  all  probability  were 
used  as  means  of  exchange.  But  they  do  not  clearly  refer  to  profes- 
sional merchants.  Neither  do  merchants  play  a  conspicuous  role  in 
the  inscriptions  and  literary  texts  of  the  Chou  dynasty.  Although  in 
early  China  there  certainly  was  trade,  there  seem  to  have  been  few, 
if  any,  professional  traders. 

Big  merchants,  who  traveled  overland,  are  reported  for  the  first 
part  of  the  later  Chou  period,  the  time  of  the  "Spring  and  Autumn 
Annals"  (721-481  B.C.).  But  those  on  whom  the  data  are  fullest 
cooperated  so  closely  with  their  rulers  that  they  can  probably  be 
considered  to  have  been  government  attached.64 

During  the  last  phase  of  the  Chou  dynasty,  the  time  of  the  Warring 


States,  independent  merchants  increased  in  importance — so  much 
so,  in  fact,  that  in  the  4th  century  B.C.  the  state  of  Ch'in  took  measures 
to  restrict  them.65  By  the  time  Ch'in  had  welded  "all-under-heaven" 
into  an  empire,  the  great  Unifier,  Ch'in  Shih  Huang-ti,  decimated  the 
ranks  of  the  merchants  by  sentencing  them  to  guard  the  frontier,  at 
first  the  merchants  themselves  and  then  their  sons  and  grandsons.66 
This  policy  demonstrates  both  the  economic  importance  and  the 
political  weakness  of  nongovernmental  professional  traders  at  the 
end  of  the  Chou  period. 

The  early  Chinese  records  that  have  so  little  to  say  about  profes- 
sional traders  are  more  articulate  about  craftsmen.  The  beautiful 
bronze  artifacts  of  Shang  and  early  Chou  reveal  extraordinary  in- 
dustrial refinement.  However,  and  different  from  conditions  in  feudal 
Europe,  the  Chinese  crafts  developed  not  on  many  and  separated 
manorial  estates  or  in  guild-controlled  burgher  towns  but  rather  in 
big  administrative  centers  controlled  by  the  Son  of  Heaven,  the  ter- 
ritorial rulers,  or  their  high  ranking  officials.  Artisan-officials,  the 
"hundred  artisans,"  are  mentioned  in  the  oldest  literary  texts  as 
well  as  in  the  early  bronze  inscriptions.67  Apparently  government 
artisans  employed  their  skills  under  the  supreme  direction  of  the 
Minister  of  Works,  the  ssii-kung,&&  and  alongside  the  "people,"  who 
as  part  of  their  corvee  duty  constituted  the  unskilled  labor  force  of 
the  government's  large  constructional  enterprises. 

Government-attached  artisans  may  have  prevailed  until  the  time 
of  the  "Spring  and  Autumn  Annals";  69  and  perhaps  it  was  only 
during  the  subsequent  period  of  the  Warring  States  that  private 
artisans  became  increasingly  important. 

We  have  no  conclusive  evidence  that,  under  the  Chou  dynasty 
and  under  the  first  imperial  dynasties,  private  merchants  or  artisans 
organized  independent  professional  corporations  (guilds)  .q  The  re- 
tarded development  in  this  regard  is  surprising  when  we  remember 
that  private  handicraft  and  particularly  private  trade  flourished  at 
the  close  of  and  after  the  Chou  period.  Whatever  the  reasons  for  this 
unevenness,  we  are  probably  safe  in  suggesting  that  a  simple  Oriental 
society  prevailed  in  ancient  China  until  the  end  of  Early  Chou 
(722  b.c.)  and  probably  also  in  the  first  centuries  of  Later  Chou. 

q.  Shops  dealing  with  the  same  goods  were  apparently  assembled  in  the  same  locality 
from  the  close  of  the  Chou  period  on  or  from  Early  Han  days  (Kato,  1936:  79),  and 
probably  also  prior  to  this  time.  But  it  "was  not  until  after  the  Sui  period  that  the 
expression  'hang',  used  in  the  sense  of  a  street  of  shops  of  the  same  trade,  came  into 
general  use";  and  it  was  only  "at  the  close  of  the  T'ang  period,  or  even  later,  that  they 
[the  Chinese  merchants]  came  to  organise  a  real  merchants'  association"  (ibid.:  83). 

CHAPTER    7,    F  253 

e.  Sumer 

The  agricultural  civilizations  of  Lower  Mesopotamia  originated  in 
a  setting  that  was  as  lacking  in  certain  industrial  materials  as  it 
was  encouraging  to  interarea  exchange.  The  alluvial  landscape,  which 
because  of  its  well-watered  rivers  offered  ideal  opportunities  for  hy- 
draulic development,  lacked  stone,  timber,  and  metals.  However, 
these  materials,  which  were  essential  to  technical,  military,  and  po- 
litical growth,  were  available  in  adjacent  lands,  and  from  the  stand- 
point of  wealth,  security,  and  power  the  incentives  to  obtain  them 
were  enormous. 

The  ancient  Hawaiians  did  not  get  from  abroad  the  raw  materials 
that  they  lacked  at  home;  and  the  Andean  Indians  and  early  Egyptians 
created  urban  civilizations  mainly  on  the  basis  of  their  own  resources. 
The  Sumerians  developed  a  flourishing  urban  life,  because  they 
succeeded  in  establishing  and  maintaining  an  elaborate  system  of 
international  relations  and  exchange. 

Needed  raw  materials  can  be  obtained  by  organized  force:  war. 
But  this  is  not  always  appropriate,  and  particularly  not  when  the 
sources  of  supply  are  remote  and  those  in  control  strong.  In  many 
cases  the  sough t-f or  goods  had  to  be  acquired  by  peaceful  means — 
that  is,  primarily  by  trade. 

Long  distance  trade  requires  the  services  of  specialists  in  trans- 
portation and  exchange.  In  Lower  Mesopotamia  merchants  appeared 
early.  While  traders  played  an  insignificant  role  in  almost  all  other 
simple  Oriental  civilizations,  they  were  conspicuously  mentioned  in 
the  Sumerian  protohistorical  inscriptions  of  Fara;  70  and  in  later  and 
more  detailed  inscriptions  they  were  depicted  as  important  profes- 

The  development  of  urban  centers  of  administration  and  religion 
also  involved  a  fairly  advanced  division  of  industrial  labor;  and  the 
Sumerian  inscriptions  contain  many  references  to  artisans,  who  prac- 
ticed their  skills  professionally.  How  developed  were  private  property 
and  private  enterprise  in  early  Lower  Mesopotamia? 

Deimel's  elaborate  investigations  suggest  that  from  the  dawn  of 
history  on/  the  Sumerian  temple  cities  probably  offered  less  oppor- 
tunity for  independent  craftsmen  than  did  ancient  Hawaii,  Peru, 
and  Pharaonic  Egypt.  Like  the  other  members  of  the  temple  com- 

r.  According  to  Deimel,  the  ancient  Sumerians  apparently  depended  as  much  on 
the  temples,  when  the  Fara  texts  were  written,  as  they  did  three  or  four  hundred 
years  later,  when  Urukagina  ruled  Lagash.  "The  population  then  too  served  the  temple 
and  lived  on  it"  (Deimel,  1924a:  42). 


munity,  the  artisans  received  land,71  and  like  them  also,  they  rendered 
corvee  service,72  which,  according  to  Schneider's  tentative  estimate, 
may  have  lasted  some  four  months  a  year.73  A  number  of  craftsmen 
were  employed  permanently  in  temple  workshops,74  as  were  certain 
slaves  (in  the  main  female).75  The  majority  of  all  artisans,  however, 
seems  to  have  worked  for  the  temples  through  the  operation  of  a 
putting-out  system:  temple  storehouses  provided  them  with  raw  ma- 
terials, which  they  processed  at  home  and  for  a  wage.76  The  position 
of  these  artisans  was  not  unlike  that  of  many  European  craftsmen  who 
during  the  first  centuries  of  industrial  capitalism  worked  in  a  similarly 
decentralized  way  for  their  commercial  or  industrial  employers. 

Were  all  domestic  artisans  of  early  Mesopotamia  so  engaged?  And 
did  any  of  them  engage  at  least  in  some  independent  business?  The 
second  question  is  more  easily  answered  than  the  first.  The  fact  that 
all  (or  some?)  of  the  workmen  offered  the  temples  certain  tax-like 
"gifts"  77  is  best  explained  by  the  assumption  that  they  were  able 
to  produce  something  for  their  own  account.8 

The  private  activities  of  the  Sumerian  merchants  were  apparently 
much  more  extensive.  No  doubt  these  merchants  were  not  inde- 
pendent of  the  city  or  temples  either.  They,  too,  were  assigned  land, 
but  much  more  than  the  artisans — in  fact,  as  much  as  a  middle  official 
or  officer.'  They  could  have  their  fields  cultivated  for  them  by  tenants, 
wage  laborers,  or  slaves;  and  their  landed  possessions,  instead  of 
handicapping  them  in  their  commercial  activities,  probably  provided 
them  with  additional  means  for  their  business  enterprises.  As  mer- 
chants, they  were  attached  either  to  the  supreme  authority  of  the 
city  state,78  or  to  a  temple,  the  second  most  important  unit  of  power.79 
And  obviously  and  in  the  main,  they  traded  for  the  "palace"  or  the 

In  their  transactions  the  great  merchants,  gal  damkar,  and  the 
ordinary  merchants,  damkar,  enjoyed  considerable  freedom;  81  and 

5.  A.  Schneider  assumes  that  the  artisans  who  worked  at  home  for  the  temples 
"apart  from  this,  and  perhaps  already  against  a  remuneration,  also  executed  orders 
from  other  members  of  the  temple  community"  (1920:  85). 

/.  According  to  inscriptions  collected  by  Hussey,  a  damkar  of  the  Bau  Temple 
received  19  gan  of  land  (Schneider,  1920:  66).  One  gan  could  support  more  than  one 
person  and  two  gan  a  small  family  (ibid.:  35  ff.).  A  top-ranking  temple  executive, 
mentioned  in  Hussey's  material,  received  43  gan  (ibid.:  35).  Another  text  gives  much 
higher  totals  for  the  land  assigned  to  high  officials:  90  gan  and  even  138%  gan  (ibid.). 
Heads  of  military  detachments  or  other  prominent  warriors  received  23,  24,  26,  and 
18  gan,  and  a  temple  official  engar  17%  gan  (ibid.:  noff.).  Among  the  artisans,  a 
carpenter  was  given  1  gan,  a  chariot  maker  1  to  2  gan,  a  tanner  3  gan,  and  cooks 
and  bakers  from  214  to  6  gan  (ibid.). 

CHAPTER    7,    F  255 

in  addition  they  were  permitted  to  trade  for  their  own  account.  They 
might  have  business  dealings  with  the  ruler,82  with  the  queen,83  with 
members  of  the  ruling  family,"  and  with  less  highly  situated  persons.8* 
Manifestly  the  opportunities  for  amassing  wealth  were  vast,85 

Thus  in  contrast  to  ancient  Hawaii,  China,  and  Pharaonic  Egypt, 
Sumer  saw  a  very  early  development  of  private  enterprise  in  trade. 
And  whereas  the  country's  artisans,  even  when  they  were  engaged 
in  domestic  industry,  were  closely  tied  to  the  temple  economy,  the 
merchants,  who  were  neither  trading  officials  nor  governmental  com- 
mercial agents  but  something  in  between,  were  much  less  so.  Few 
simple  hydraulic  societies  moved  as  conspicuously  toward  a  property- 
based  and  independent  commerce  as  did  ancient  Sumer. 

5.  Origins  of  Bureaucratic  Capitalism 

The  great  merchants  of  Sumer,  who  had  funds  of  their  own  and  who 
traded  directly  with  their  sovereign,  occupied  a  position  very  dif- 
ferent from  that  of  the  commercial  specialists  of  the  Pharaohs.  The 
representatives  of  the  Pharaohs,  who  traded  with  Punt,88  Phoenicia,87 
Mesopotamia,88  and  Cyprus,89  handled  government  property  for  the 
advantage  of  the  government.  They  accomplished  an  exchange  of 
goods  often  under  the  guise  of  diplomatic  "presents,"  but  they  had 
a  keen  eye  for  the  values  involved.  They  asked  for  specific  items,90 
they  carefully  examined  the  objects  offered  them,91  they  criticized 
inadequate  gifts,92  and  they  stressed  the  need  for  reciprocity.93  What- 
ever presents  were  given  them  during,  or  at  the  end  of,  their  expedi- 
tions were  given  them  as  servants  of  the  king  and  not  as  independent 
businessmen.  In  short,  they  were  governmental  trading  officials  not 
too  different  in  their  position  from  the  members  of  a  Soviet  Trade 

In  contrast  to  such  trading  officials,  the  government-attached  mer- 
chants used  their  own  capital  largely,  or  exclusively,  in  the  service 
of  their  rulers,  who — while  providing  them  with  excellent  oppor- 
tunities for  doing  business — might  also  set  the  conditions  (prices, 
profits)  under  which  these  opportunities  could  be  utilized.  To  in- 
voke a  designation  that  originally  pleased  the  Chinese  Communists 
but  that  now  embarrasses  them,  these  merchants  were  "bureaucratic 
capitalists."  94 

In  a  wider  sense,  the  designation  "bureaucratic  capitalists"  is  ap- 
plicable to  several  groups:  (1)  tax  collectors,  who  act  as  fiscal  agents 

u.  Scholtz,  1934:  59.  Princes  or  princesses  occupied  a  number  of  artisans,  servants, 
and  slaves  (Deimel,  1929:  126,  128;  ibid.,  1931:  no). 


for  a  ruling  bureaucracy;  (2)  officiating  or  nonofficiating  members 
of  such  a  bureaucracy,  who  on  the  strength  of  their  political  position 
engage  in  private  enterprises,  such  as  trading,  money  lending,  and 
tax  farming;  (3)  private  businessmen,  who  as  commercial  agents  or 
contractors  do  business  for  the  ruling  bureaucracy;  and  (4)  private 
businessmen,  who  attach  themselves  to  individual  members  of  the 
bureaucracy  to  assure  the  success  of  their  transactions.  Bureaucratic 
capitalists,  then,  are  owners  of  capital  who  act  as  commercial  or  fiscal 
agents  for  an  apparatus  state,  no  matter  whether  they  are  members 
of  the  officialdom  or  functionaries  of  the  dominant  religion,  or  per- 
sons of  wealth  who  are  neither. 

The  records  of  ancient  China  are  not  clear  on  the  subject  of  trading 
officials,  although  it  seems  likely  that  in  the  Shang  and  Early  Chou 
periods  certain  functionaries  of  the  early  territorial  states  fulfilled 
commercial  tasks.  They  are  more  articulate  on  the  presence  of  govern- 
ment-attached commercial  agents.  Indeed  such  persons  are  sufficiently 
conspicuous  to  justify  our  tentatively  classing  Chou  China,  up  to 
the  period  of  the  "Spring  and  Autumn  Annals,"  as  a  simple  Oriental 

For  Inca  Peru  the  very  problem  does  not  arise  seriously.  Officials 
of  the  frontier  districts  may  have  traded  government-owned  goods 
against  goods  produced  abroad;  and  some  transactions  may  well 
have  been  concluded  privately.  But  Inca  society  seems  to  have  had 
little  need  for  trading  officials  and  still  less  for  government-attached 
commercial  agents. 

The  Sumerian  inscriptions  contain  many  references  to  foreign  trade 
(internal  exchange  was  mainly  confined  to  barter).95  Unfortunately, 
however,  the  texts  leave  many  questions  unanswered.  What  kinds  of 
commercial  transactions  were  involved  in  the  many  government  ex- 
peditions that  were  undertaken  to  acquire  stone,96  wood,97  metal,98 
bitumen,99  and  other  items?  Were  the  majority  of  all  merchants 
primarily  trading  officials  or  governmental  commercial  agents?  No 
matter  what  the  answer  to  these  questions  may  be,  the  character  of 
ancient  Sumerian  society  provides  scant  justification  for  interpreting 
the  "merchants"  of  the  oldest  inscriptions  thus  far  deciphered  as  in- 
dependent entrepreneurs. 

6.  The  Hydraulic  Sponge 

Most  of  the  hydraulic  civilizations  that  achieved  considerable  pro- 
prietary differentiation  seem  to  have  maintained  simple  patterns  of 
property  at  an  earlier  time.  In  some  cases,  such  as  India,  simple 
conditions  of  property  and  society  gave  way  relatively  quickly  to 

CHAPTER    7,    F  257 

semicomplex  configurations.  In  other  cases,  such  as  Egypt  and  Lower 
Mesopotamia,  they  prevailed  for  millennia.  In  the  Andean  area  they 
were  (still  or  again?)  dominant  when  the  conquistadores  arrived. 

The  variations  in  the  persistence  of  simple  patterns  of  property 
assume  a  new  meaning  as  soon  as  they  are  correlated  with  variations 
in  hydraulic  density.  The  hydraulic  centers  of  Peru,  Egypt,  and 
Lower  Mesopotamia  all  gave  birth  to  compact  systems  of  hydraulic 
agriculture,  whereas  many  of  the  territorial  states  of  India  and  China 
and,  for  that  matter,  of  Mexico  relied  on  loose  or  marginal  types 
of  Oriental  agriculture.  We  do  not,  in  this  context,  cite  Hawaii,  be- 
cause in  that  archipelago  the  perpetuation  of  extremely  simple  pat- 
terns of  Oriental  property  was  obviously  due  to  an  extraordinary 
combination  of  internal  and  external  circumstances.  However,  in 
the  first  instances  the  contrast  in  hydraulic  density  patterns  is  too 
striking  to  be  dismissed  as  irrelevant.  In  all  probability  the  early 
independent  hydraulic  communities  of  the  Andean  zone  traded  be- 
yond their  borders,  and  this  early  trade  may  well  have  been  handled 
not  only  by  commercial  officials  but  also  by  government-attached 
private  merchants,  who  may  to  some  extent  have  acted  for  their  own 
account.  But  Sumerian  history  demonstrates  that  strong  hydraulic 
regimes  can  keep  the  bulk  of  all  traders  attached  to  the  government 
even  in  separated  city  states.  Thus  it  is  not  impossible  that  in  the 
Andean  area  (as  in  Sumer  and  Pharaonic  Egypt,  but  perhaps  with 
more  marked  oscillations)  there  prevailed,  even  prior  to  the  Incas, 
simple  conditions  of  power,  property,  and  class. 

In  Peru  these  conditions  may  have  endured  as  long  as  state-centered 
and  hydraulic  civilizations  were  present  in  the  area.  In  Egypt  they 
outlasted  the  relative  isolation  of  the  hydraulically  compact  Nile 
Valley.  And  in  Lower  Mesopotamia  they  persisted  even  after  the 
compact  hydraulic  heartland  had  been  incorporated  into  larger  and 
looser  hydraulic  conformations.  Leemans  assumes  a  high  development 
of  private  property  and  trade  10°  when  the  second  Sumerian  empire 
under  Ur  III  for  a  brief  period  reached  to  the  Mediterranean  Sea, 
Assyria,  and  Persia.  However,  according  to  the  same  authority,  state 
trade  prevailed  again  under  the  last  Larsa  ruler,  Rim-Sin,101  under 
the  Babylonian  king,  Hammurabi,102  who  defeated  him,  and  for  over 
four  centuries  under  the  Kassites.103 

In  these  compact  hydraulic  societies  the  "dense"  bureaucratic  ap- 
paratus obviously  acted  like  a  powerful  hydraulic  sponge,  whose 
capacity  to  absorb  vital  functions  of  industry  and  trade  was  superior, 
other  conditions  being  equal,  to  that  of  less  compact  hydraulic  com- 



But  such  compact  and  self-perpetuating  simple  hydraulic  societies 
are  not  too  numerous.  In  many  hydraulic  civilizations  the  agromana- 
gerial  apparatus  state,  while  keeping  the  bulk  of  the  cultivable  land 
from  becoming  private  property,  did  not  so  seriously  restrict  the 
growth  of  nongovernmental,  property-based,  and  professional  handi- 
craft and  commerce. 

i.  Occurrences 

a.  Pre-Conquest  Meso-America 

The  rise  of  independent  professional  artisans  and  merchants  in 
Aztec  Mexico  contrasts  illuminatingly  with  conditions  in  Inca  Peru. 
A  complete  lack  of  transport  animals  handicapped  the  inhabitants 
of  Meso-America;  but  this  deficiency  was  largely  compensated  for 
by  a  number  of  other  ecological  advantages.  The  terrain  was  far  more 
suitable  for  interterritorial  communication;  navigable  lakes,  rivers, 
and  an  extended  and  approachable  coast  stimulated  the  circulation 
of  goods  by  boat.  The  Sumerians  enjoyed  similar  advantages;  and  we 
should  not  be  surprised  to  learn  that  like  them  the  Aztecs  and  their 
predecessors,  the  Toltecs,  had  private  professional  merchants  and 
carried  on  an  extensive  international  commerce.1  These  conditions 
also  promoted  a  technical  and  regional  division  of  industrial  labor. 
But  neither  the  city  states  nor  the  larger  territorial  units  of  pre- 
Conquest  Mexico  were  as  hydraulically  compact  as  were  their 
Sumerian  counterparts.  Thus  the  professional  artisans  and  merchants 
of  Mexico  were  not  equally  dependent  upon  the  hydraulic  state.  Their 
plots  of  land  were  allotted  by  the  calpulli,  local  and  stratified  units 
that  possessed  a  limited  autonomy;  2  and  apparently  neither  group 
rendered  extended  labor  services.  Except  for  references  to  houses  in 
which  females  were  assembled,0  we  have  little  evidence  for  govern- 
ment workshops.6  According  to  Zurita  and  other  early  sources,  the 
artisans  rendered  no  corvee  labor  but  paid  over  part  of  their  produce 

a.  According  to  Torquemada,  houses  with  females,  "nuns,"  were  "widespread" 
(Torquemada,  1943,  II:  189,  191).  Diaz,  who  observed  traditional  Aztec  society  before 
it  disintegrated,  asserts  that  there  were  "nunneries"  in  a  number  of  Central  American 
countries.  In  Mexico  proper  he  knew  of  only  one,  in  the  capital  (Diaz,  1944,  I:  349  ff.). 

b.  Diaz  (1944,  I:  346)  mentions  government-managed  bakeries.  Sahagun  (1938,  III: 
75)  speaks  of  persons  who  made  shoes  for  the  lords.  Was  the  work  in  the  government 
shops  performed  by  serving  men,  who,  while  hereditary  members  of  the  calpulli, 
worked  exclusively  for  the  sovereign?  (Monzon,  1949:  41.)  Is  this  what  Torquemada 
(1943,  II:   488)   had  in  mind  when  he  said  that   certain   work  was  done  by  artisans 

CHAPTER    7,    G  259 

as  tax.3  Except  for  the  time  they  spent  in  tilling  their  fields,  the  many 
Mexican  craftsmen  4  seem  to  have  deployed  their  special  skills  for 
their  own  account,  preparing  articles  to  be  sold  at  the  markets  that 
were  held  in  the  large  communities.5 

The  small  traders  were  probably  as  independent  as  they  were  insig- 
nificant/' But  the  big  interterritorial  merchants,  the  pochteca,  were 
close  to  the  governmental  apparatus.  Permitted  to  rent  out  their 
plots  of  land  G  and  to  render  tax  instead  of  labor  service,7  the  pochteca 
could  engage  in  full-time  commerce.  They  served  the  government 
as  diplomats  8  and  spies.9  Occasionally  they  conducted  military  cam- 
paigns on  behalf  of  their  sovereign.10  Tezozomoc  says  that  the  king's 
own  brothers  and  uncles  were  pochteca.11 

Manifestly,  these  big  merchants  were  part  of  the  ruling  class.12  But 
they  were  not  commercial  officials.  Being  rich,  they  operated  with 
their  own  funds,  and  essentially,  it  would  seem,  for  their  own  account. 
They  might  also  collect  taxes  for  the  government,13  and  at  such 
times,  they  were  bureaucratic  capitalists  in  the  narrow  sense  of  the 
term.  However,  this  was  no  universal  practice,  for  we  know  that 
as  a  rule  the  taxes  were  levied  by  full-time  officials. 

And  there  is  still  less  evidence  that  the  Mexican  pochteca  and/or 
their  aides  traded  largely  on  order  of  the  ruler  and  the  temples,  as 
did  the  Sumerian  damkar.  Thus,  however  close  the  pochteca's  as- 
sociations with  the  "lords"  may  have  been  socially  and  politically, 
professionally  they  do  not  seem  to  have  been  part  of  the  state  ap- 
paratus. It  is  for  this  reason  and  because  of  the  independence  of  the 
artisans  that  we  view  Aztec  Mexico  as  a  semicomplex  hydraulic  society. 

The  exact  position  of  the  Maya  artisans  is  not  easily  determined. 
Clearly  they  were  given  fields,  milpa/*  and  contrary  to  practice  in 
Aztec  Mexico  they  seem  to  have  received  allotments,  not  from  semi- 
autonomous  heads  of  the  calpulli  but  from  regional  representatives 
of  the  central  government.15  The  Maya  commoners  who  built 
"houses"  for  the  "lords"  may  well  have  included  artisans;  but  the 
records  are  not  articulate  on  this  point.  They  are  even  less  articulate 
on  government-managed  workshops,  which  as  in  Mexico  were  prob- 
ably not  absent  altogether.  But  as  in  Mexico,  the  Maya  craftsmen 
probably  produced  and  traded  mainly  for  their  own  account.16 

Lacking  a  comprehensive  agromanagerial  officialdom,  the  Maya 
rulers  did  not  maintain  an  elaborate  state  trade.  Some  "rich"  men 
were  members  of  the  governing  class,17  but  it  is  doubtful  whether  the 

"for  the  lords"?  Or  are  we  faced  with  residual  forms  of  an  industrial  corvee,  which, 
although  still  invoked,  had  ceased  to  be  institutionally  relevant? 

c.  Apparently  they  dealt  in  foods,  cloth,  and  cacao  on  a  modest  scale  and  for  a 
lowly  clientele  (Sahagun,  1938,  III:  40,  53,  77). 


big  Maya  merchants  in  their  entirety  were  as  close  socially  to  the 
secular  and  priestly  leaders  as  were  the  pochteca.  According  to  Landa, 
men  of  wealth  lived  near  the  "lords"  and  priests,  but  not  in  the 
same  quarter.18  Could  it  be  that  the  crystallization  of  a  property- 
based  and  nongovernmental  group  of  professional  merchants  had 
advanced  further  in  the  hydraulically  marginal  lowlands  of  Yucatan 
than  in  the  hydraulic  core  of  Mexico? 

b.  India,  China,  the  Near  East 

In  India  semicomplex  patterns  of  hydraulic  property  and  society 
prevailed  throughout  the  greater  part  of  its  recorded  history.  In 
China  and  the  Near  East  simple  patterns  of  property  yielded  to  more 
complex  configurations  and  with  differing  results.  China  operated 
on  a  semicomplex  level  at  least  twice,  once  during  the  last  centuries 
of  the  Chou  period  and  again  from  the  later  part  of  the  5th  century 
to  the  8th  century  a.d.  In  the  Near  East  complex  patterns  of  property 
possibly  prevailed  only  during  a  certain  phase  of  Roman  rule, 
whereas  semicomplex  configurations  were  prominent  both  before  and 
after  that  time. 

Thus  varying  forms  of  semicomplex  hydraulic  property  and  society 
prevailed  in  India  almost  from  the  dawn  of  written  history  to  the 
19th  century,  in  China  altogether  for  some  five  hundred  years,  and 
in  the  Near  East  for  two  long  periods  covering  two  thousand  years 
or  more. 

c.  Byzantium  and  Russia 

I  n  Byzantine  society  there  was  no  lack  of  private  craftsmen  and  mer- 
chants. As  a  matter  of  fact,  Byzantine  trade  was  both  comprehensive 
and  flourishing  during  the  middle  and  later  part  of  the  first  millen- 
nium.19 But  the  Byzantine  artisans  and  merchants  no  longer  had  the 
freedom  of  action  that  their  predecessors  had  enjoyed  in  the  Greek 
cities  of  Western  Asia  or  in  Rome  prior  to  the  victory  of  bureaucratic 
absolutism.  Administrative  and  fiscal  restrictions  burdened  the  crafts- 
men and  traders  of  Byzantium  until  the  1 1  th  century,20  pressing  them 
into  a  peculiarly  crippled  variant  of  a  semicomplex  pattern  of  hy- 
draulic property. 

In  post-Mongol  Russia  private  property  in  land  evolved  unevenly 
and  as  far  as  the  peasants  were  concerned,  very  late.  Professional  and 
free  handicraft  recovered  slowly  from  the  setbacks  instituted  under 
the  Mongol  yoke.  Commerce  offered  much  greater  opportunities  to 
those  who  controlled  it,  and  the  masters  of  the  Muscovite  apparatus 
state  were  eager  to  manipulate  it  either  directly,  through  trading 

CHAPTER    7,    G  26l 

officials,  or  indirectly,  through  commercial  agents.  In  the  sphere  of 
domestic  trade  government  functionaries  first  purchased  wax,  honey, 
and  other  items,  "taking  them  at  smal  prices  what  themselves  list, 
and  selling  them  againe  at  an  excessive  rate  to  their  own  marchants, 
and  to  marchants  strangers.  If  they  refuse  to  buy  them,  then  to  force 
them  unto  it."  21  The  government  also  sold  goods  that  it  received 
as  taxes  or  tributes  and  obviously  with  a  similar  disregard  for  the 
buyer,  for  such  goods  were  "forced  upon  the  marchants  to  be  bought 
by  them  at  the  emperours  price,  whether  they  will  nor  no."  d 

Foreign  merchants  too  had  to  submit  to  government  regulations. 
Once  inside  the  Russian  realm  they  had  to  display  all  their  com- 
modities before  the  officials,  who  "put  a  value  on  them";  22  and  they 
could  not  trade  with  private  individuals  before  the  Tsar  was  given 
an  opportunity  to  buy  what  he  wanted.23 

But  the  Muscovite  state  was  unable  to  manage  the  bulk  of  all 
large-scale  circulation  as  did  the  regimes  of  Pharaonic  Egypt  or  Inca 
Peru.  The  Tsar  comprehensively  employed  the  services  of  a  numbei 
of  rich  merchants,  particularly  the  gosti.  These  bureaucratic  capitalists, 
who  collected  taxes  and  custom  fees  for  the  government,2*  usually 
acted  as  the  Tsar's  commercial  councilors  and  agents.25 

Outside  the  government  trade  proper,  commerce  was  carried  on, 
among  others,  by  the  pomeshchiki.  These  holders  of  office  land  sold 
the  surplus  grain  and  other  surplus  products  of  their  estates  for  their 
own  account,26  thus  constituting  a  group  of  bureaucratic  capitalists 
sui  generis.  The  monasteries,  which  were  linked  and  subordinated 
to  the  state,  also  engaged  in  commercial  transactions,  not  infrequently 
on  a  large  scale.27 

All  this  did  not  leave  much  room  for  the  operations  of  professional 
and  independent  trade.  The  gosti  and  a  small  number  of  other 
privileged  merchants  controlled  a  large  segment  of  the  market,28 
seeing  to  it  that  "nowhere  free  commerce  be  permitted."  2B  Such 
at  least  was  the  opinion  of  the  ordinary  merchants,  who  played  a 
decidedly  inferior  role  and  hated  the  gosti  bitterly.30 

Privileged  merchants  of  the  Muscovite  period  could  amass  great 
wealth,  but  neither  this  wealth  nor  their  semi-official  position  pro- 
tected them  against  the  confiscatory  actions  of  their  despotic  masters. 
Fletcher  reports  a  case  in  which  three  brothers  of  unusual  energy 
and  daring  built  up  a  thriving  trade  that  yielded  them  "300,000 
rubbels  in  money,  besides  landes,  cattels,  and  other  commodities." 
Fletcher  ascribes  this  initial  success  partly  to  the  fact  that  the  brothers 
lived  more  than  a  thousand  miles  from  Moscow.  For  a  while  they 

d.  The  government  profited  particularly  from  the  quasimonopolistic  sale  of  furs, 
grain,  and  wood  (Fletcher,  1856;  57  ff.). 


stood  well  with  the  authorities,  who  charged  them  with  the  adminis- 
tration of  certain  customs  along  the  Siberian  border.  The  Tsar  was 
"content  to  use  their  purse,  till  such  time  as  they  got  ground  in 
Siberia."  Finally,  however,  the  government  took  away  their  fortune 
"by  pieces,  sometimes  20,000  rubbels  at  a  time,  sometime  more;  till 
in  the  end  their  sonnes  that  now  are,  are  well  eased  of  their  stocke, 
and  have  but  small  parte  of  their  fathers  substance:  the  rest  being 
drawen  all  into  the  emperours  treasurie."  31 

Private  property  and  property-based  enterprise  suffered  immensely 
from  this  ruthless  policy.  "The  great  oppression  over  the  poore 
commons,"  so  Fletcher, 

maketh  them  to  have  no  courage  in  following  their  trades:  for 
that  the  more  they  have  the  more  daunger  they  are  in,  not  onely 
of  their  goods  but  of  their  lives  also.  And  if  they  have  any 
thing,  they  conceale  it  all  they  can,  sometimes  conveying  it 
into  monasteries,  sometimes  hiding  it  under  the  ground  and 
in  woods,  as  men  are  woont  to  doo  where  they  are  in  feare  of 
forreine  invasion.  ...  I  have  seene  them  sometimes  when  they 
have  layed  open  their  commodities  for  a  liking  ...  to  look 
still  behind  them  and  towards  every  doore:  as  men  in  some 
feare,  that  looked  to  be  set  upon  and  surprised  by  some  enimie.32 

Under  such  conditions  most  of  the  commoners  preferred  immediate 
satisfaction  to  long-range  planning:  "This  maketh  the  people  (though 
otherwise  hardened  to  beare  any  toile)  to  give  themselves  much  to 
idlenes  and  drinking:  as  passing  for  no  more  then  from  hand  to 
mouth."  33  It  is  difficult  to  find  a  more  colorful  and  more  depressing 
picture  of  private  mobile  property  under  the  conditions  of  a  crippled 
semicomplex  Oriental  society. 

2.  How  Powerful  Could  the  Representatives  of 
Private  Mobile  and  Active  Property  Become  in 
Semicomplex  Hydraulic  Societies? 

How  much  power  may  the  potentially  wealthiest  representatives  of 
mobile  property,  the  big  merchants,  wield  in  semicomplex  hydraulic 
societies?  Can  they  ever  dominate,  or  run,  an  absolutist  government? 
Wealthy  merchants  certainly  may  control  absolutist  governments; 
and  this  may  be  the  case  even  in  commonwealths  that  contain  ele- 
ments of  hydraulic  statecraft.  Elements.  As  long  as  such  governments 
fail  to  keep  private  property  legally  and  economically  weak,  so  long 
will  the  patterns  of  property  and  power  remain  hydraulically  sub- 
marginal.  This  is  always  so  when  the  interests  of  private  property 
dominate  the  society;  and  it  is  so  even  when  large  hydraulic  enter- 

CHAPTER    7,    G  263 

prises  and/or  quasi-Oriental  devices  of  political  control  are  present. 
The  city  state  of  Venice  built  enormous  protective  water  works,  but 
Venice  remained  a  nonhydraulic  aristocratic  republic,  in  which  big 
commercial  property  gained  a  maximum  of  strength  and  security. 

Carthaginian  society  in  the  4th  and  3d  centuries  B.C.  included  a 
number  of  Oriental  institutions.  The  Carthaginians  certainly  knew 
irrigation  agriculture.34  Their  government  was  strong  enough  to  tax 
the  Lybian  peasants  of  their  agrarian  hinterland/  To  the  disgust  of 
their  Roman  enemies,  they  invoked  the  symbol  of  total  submission, 
prostration,  not  only  before  their  gods  "as  is  the  custom  with  other 
men,"  but  also  before  their  fellow  men.35  But  as  we  have  seen  in 
Japan,  irrigation  techniques  and  prostration  may  occur  also  at  the 
submarginal  fringe  of  the  hydraulic  world;  and  in  Carthage  commer- 
cial interests  were  manifestly  paramount f  and  private  property  was 
the  key  means  for  attaining  high  political  office.5'  On  the  basis  of  our 
present  knowledge  we  may  therefore  say  that  at  least  at  the  time  of 
Aristotle  the  rich  merchants  probably  dominated  Carthaginian  so- 
ciety and  that  similar  submarginal  configurations  in  all  likelihood 
emerged  in  a  number  of  other  places,  particularly — although  not  nec- 
essarily— at  the  geographical  fringe  of  the  hydraulic  world. 

In  independent  commonwealths  based  on  commerce,  rich  mer- 
chants— who  may  also  be  big  landowners — can  certainly  achieve  so- 
cial and  political  prominence.  But  while  recognizing  this  possibility, 
we  must  ask:  how  much  power  can  the  representatives  of  independent 
commercial  property  wield  in  semicomplex  Oriental  societies? 

a.  Miscellaneous  Developments 

Under  semicomplex  conditions  of  property,  the  bulk  of  cultivable 
land  is  not  owned  privately;  the  big  merchants  must  therefore  derive 
their  societal  strength  primarily  from  their  mobile  wealth.  In  a  num- 
ber of  cases  their  combined  wealth  was  enormous;  but  even  under  ra- 
tional despots,  such  as  the  kings  of  Babylonia,  commercial  property 
generally  remained  subject  to  fragmenting  laws  of  inheritance,  to 
comprehensive  taxation,  and,  insofar  as  transportation  was  concerned, 
not  infrequently  also  to  government  regulation  of  oxen,  carts,  and 

e.  Gsell  assumes  that  normally  the  government  claimed  25  per  cent  of  the  crops 
as  tax.  Polybius  (1.78.2)  shows  that  in  emergencies  as  much  as  50  per  cent  might  be 
collected  (Gsell,  HA,  II:  303). 
/.  Meyer  (GA,  III:  644)  calls  the  Carthaginian  government  a  "commercial  autocracy." 
g.  Aristotle,  Politics  2.11.1273a.  Aristotle,  who  noted  that  in  Carthage  the  greatest 
offices,  such  as  those  of  kings  and  generals,  were  bought,  considered  this  "a  bad 
thing."  "The  law  which  allows  this  abuse  makes  wealth  of  more  account  than  virtue." 
For  an  elaboration  of  these  points  see  Gsell,  HA,  II:  235  ff. 


hired  men.38  It  has  been  said  before,  and  because  of  the  importance 
of  the  issue  it  must  be  said  again:  the  holders  of  active  mobile  prop- 
erty might  organize  in  guilds,  and  often  the  state  compelled  them  to 
do  so;  but  neither  the  merchants  nor  the  craft  guilds  were  integrated 
in  independent  political  machines  on  a  local  or  national  basis. 

The  gentlemen  traders  of  Aztec  Mexico  seem  to  have  been  content 
to  act  as  a  commercial  appendage  to  the  secular  and  religious  rulers; 
and  nothing  is  known  regarding  any  attempts  on  their  part  to  domi- 
nate Mexican  society.  The  "rich"  Maya,  whose  quarters  were  close  to, 
but  not  identical  with,  those  of  the  masters  of  the  state,  operated  at 
the  outer  edge  of  the  power  system.  Commoners,  "apparently  men  of 
wealth  or  influence,"  sometimes  "insinuated  themselves  into  political 
positions  considered  to  be  above  their  station,"  but  "the  official  hier- 
archy was  purged  from  time  to  time  of  the  pretenders  and  upstarts, 
who  were  not  versed  in  the  occult  knowledge  of  the  upper  class."  37 

In  the  Old  World,  the  marginal  hydraulic  societies  of  Byzantium 
and  Russia  differed  greatly  from  Maya  society,  but  their  private  trad- 
ers also  failed  to  become  politically  dominant.  In  Byzantium  the  mer- 
chants, however  wealthy  they  were  individually,  remained  politically 
and  socially  restricted  until  the  nth  century.  During  the  final  phases 
of  Byzantine  history,  the  men  of  property  who  succeeded  in  paralyz- 
ing the  absolutist  apparatus  were  not  merchants  or  artisans,  but  land- 

In  Muscovite  Russia  the  merchants  were  little  more  than  economi- 
cally useful  domestic  animals;  nor  did  the  big  merchants  in  China 
rise  to  political  prominence  when  semicomplex  patterns  of  property 
prevailed  at  the  end  of  the  Chou  period  and  during  the  middle  part 
of  the  first  millennium  a.d. 

b.  Hindu  India 

The  corresponding  developments  in  early  India  are  particularly  in- 
structive because  the  Aryan  conquest  was  accomplished  by  a  group 
that,  although  aware  of  the  importance  of  irrigation  canals,38  empha- 
sized cattle  wealth,  trade,  and  traders.  The  Vedas  speak  respectfully 
of  merchants.*  In  a  hymn  in  the  Atharva-Veda-Samhita  merchants 
pray  to  the  god  Indra  as  "the  merchant  par  excellence."  S9  The  great 
epics  that  were  composed  very  much  later 40  confirm  the  relatively 
high  and  influential  position  of  the  Vedic  merchant  in  what  Hop- 
kins calls  "the  Aryan  state."  41  However,  they  leave  no  doubt  that 

h.  Grassmann,  RV,  I:  197;  II:  113;  cf.  Banerjee,  1925:  155.  Less  esteemed,  although 
equally  prosperous,  was  the  pani,  a  businessman  who  sought  gain  "either  through 
trade  or  through  usury"  (Banerjee,  1925:  156). 

CHAPTER    7,    G  265 

"in  distinction  from  nobles  and  priests,"  the  merchants,  together  with 
the  Aryan  peasants,  belonged  to  "the  people."42  Thus  whatever  the 
status  of  the  Aryan  commoners,  the  Vaisyas,  may  have  been  in  pre- 
historic times,  in  the  Vedic  era  they  were  "oppressed  by  the  princes." 
It  was  in  this  era — or  even  later  in  the  subsequent  Buddhist  period  43 
— that  professional  associations  of  merchants  began  to  appear.** 

Of  course,  the  rise  of  such  bodies  proves  nothing  about  their  politi- 
cal independence.  In  simple  Oriental  societies — and  often  also  un- 
der more  complex  conditions — the  professional  corporations  are  use- 
ful tools  of  government..  The  epics  voice  the  king's  concern  with  the 
merchants,  particularly  in  times  of  war  and  crisis;  but  the  merchants' 
chief  political  importance  may  well  have  been  derived  from  their 
possible  conspiratorial  value  to  enemy  countries.45 

There  can  be  no  doubt  regarding  the  prospering  of  trade  and 
traders  during  the  Buddhist  period;  and  there  can  be  no  doubt 
either  regarding  the  social  prominence  of  the  government-attached 
chief  merchants,  the  setthi.  However,  this  does  not  justify  the  claim 
that  the  merchants,  as  a  group,  were  able  in  the  major  centers  of 
what  was  then  Hindu  India  to  normally  and  conspicuously  influence 
— or  control — the  political  decisions  of  their  respective  governments. 

These  governments  were  not  necessarily  monarchies.  In  the  home- 
land of  Buddhism,  northeast  India,  there  were  several  republics,  in 
which  the  ruler  discussed  public  affairs  in  full  and  frequent  assem- 
blies.46 But  the  merchants  were  not  included  in  these  bodies.  The 
meager  information  we  have  on  eight  of  the  ten  republics  listed  by 
T.  W.  Rhys-Davids  47  shows  all  of  them  to  have  been  dominated  by 
members  of  the  warrior  caste,  Kshatriyas.48  Buddha  considered  their 
assemblies  an  ancient  institution;  *°  and  it  may  well  be  that  the  pat- 
terns of  Aryan  society  *  persisted  somewhat  longer  in  the  northeast- 
ern area,  in  which  hydraulic  action,  although  highly  advantageous, 
was  not  so  crucial  as  in  the  more  arid  western  parts  of  the  north  In- 
dian plains.*'  However,  irrigation  agriculture  and  hydraulic  enter- 
prises were  by  no  means  absent  in  the  northeast;  50  and  the  aristo- 
cratic republics  clearly  moved  toward  a  monarchical  form  of  power  51 
which  was  already  widespread  in  the  days  of  Buddha  k  and  which, 
after  a  transitional  period  of  turmoil  and  conquest,  came  to  prevail 
throughout  the  heartlands  of  Aryan  culture.52 

1.  For  the  original  role  of  an  aristocracy  of  warriors  see  Hopkins,  1888:  73;  Keith, 
192a:  98. 

/'.  Cf.  Stamp,  1938:  299  ff.  Oldenburg  (1915:  284)  regrets  that  the  studies  of  Vedic  and 
Buddhist  India  have  neglected  the  solidly  Brahmin  development  in  the  west  and  the 
great  susceptibility  of  the  east  to  the  anti-Brahmin  movement  of  Buddhism. 

k.  For  the  despotic  character  of  these  Indian  monarchies  see  Law,  1941:  169  ff.  Cf. 
Fick,  1920:  105  ff. 


In  the  restless  and  changing  Indian  society  of  this  important  pe- 
riod many  governments  availed  themselves  of  the  services  of  a  setthi. 
Apparently  a  man  of  means,53  the  setthi  often  advised  and  aided  the 
ruler  in  economic  matters.54  His  position,  though  not  that  of  an  offi- 
cial,55 was  distinguished  and  hereditary,56  vacancies  being  filled  by 
the  king.57 

The  term  setthi  means  "best,  chief."  58  Manifestly  he  was  a  "repre- 
sentative of  the  commercial  community,"  59  but  it  is  most  important 
to  note  that  he  did  not  operate  as  the  constitutionally  established 
spokesman  of  organized  merchant  power.  Nor  does  he  seem  to  have 
been  regularly — or  primarily — concerned  with  guild  affairs.  His  title 
"may  possibly  imply  headship  over  some  class  of  industry  or  trad- 
ing"; 60  and  a  famous  setthi  mentioned  in  the  Jataka  tales  apparently 
"had  some  authority  over  his  fellow-traders."  61  But  this  authority, 
even  if  real,  was  rooted  in  a  body  whose  organizational  effectiveness 
has  not  yet  been  clearly  established.  In  Buddhist  and  post-Buddhist 
India  there  certainly  were  merchant  corporations,  but  C.  A.  F.  Rhys- 
Davids  warns  against  over-estimating  the  degree  to  which  the  traders 
were  syndicalized.62  To  repeat  her  conclusion:  "There  is  ...  no 
instance  as  yet  produced  from  early  Buddhist  documents  pointing  to 
any  corporate  organisation  of  the  nature  of  a  gild  or  Hansa  league."  63 

All  this  does  not  preclude  the  political  prominence  of  merchants 
in  some  Orientally  submarginal  cities  or  city  states  of  classical  India; 
but  it  stresses  the  need  for  a  most  careful  examination  of  the  sources 
adduced  to  prove  such  prominence. 

Hopkins,  the  well-known  Sanscritist,  cites  a  Nepalese  legend  of 
the  3d  or  4th  century  a.d.  as  offering  particularly  valuable  data  on 
the  political  power  of  a  merchant  guild."1  In  his  opinion  this  legend 
"records  that  Thana  was  ruled  by  a  strong  merchant  guild."  64  Turn- 
ing to  the  Bombay  Gazetteer  which  Hopkins  consulted,65  we  find  that 
it  makes  a  significantly  more  limited  claim:  "A  strong  merchant 
guild  ruled  the  trade  of  the  city."  66  The  city  in  question  is  Sopara, 
one  of  several  settlements  located  on  the  coast  of  Thana,67  south  of 
modern  Bombay.  Turning  to  the  legend  itself,  we  find  that  the  mer- 
chants in  question,  far  from  controlling  the  government  of  the  city, 
did  not  even  control  its  trade.  A  single  powerful  outsider  prevailed 
over  the  "500"  merchants  who  were  trying  to  corner  the  market,  and 
he  did  so  after  both  parties  were  summoned  to  appear  before  the 
king,  who  manifestly  was  the  undisputed  ruler  of  the  city  and  the 

The  Indian  development  is  instructive  in  several  respects.  The 

m.  "Later  literature  down   to  our  own   time   contains   frequent  reference   to   such 
bodies,  but  no  thorough  treatment  of  them  is  to  be  found"  (Hopkins,  1902:  175). 

CHAPTER    7,    G  267 

Kshatriya  republics  show  that  hydraulic  regimes  need  not  be  mo- 
narchic; but  their  final  phases  also  underline  the  tendency  toward 
a  concentration  of  power  that  inheres  in  such  regimes.  The  fate  of 
the  merchants  is  equally  worth  noting.  During  the  formative  days 
of  the  Aryan  conquest  society,  traders  enjoyed  considerable  social 
prestige.  But  subsequently  their  position  deteriorated,  and  this  hap- 
pened despite  the  fact  that  they  were  tightly  organized. 

c.  Ancient  Mesopotamia 

Were  the  merchants  more  successful  in  the  great  Western  Asiatic 
cradle  of  Oriental  trade,  ancient  Lower  Mesopotamia?  Sumerian 
legends  speak  of  elders  and  assembly-like  gatherings,  which  the 
legendary  king,  Gilgamesh,  consulted  before  making  decisions.69 
What  do  these  tales  mean?  Boas  has  convincingly  argued  that  myths 
contain  fictitious  as  well  as  realistic  features  and  that  realistic  ele- 
ments may  be  exaggerated  or  transformed  into  their  opposites.70 
There  may  very  well  have  been  proto-Sumerian  assemblies  similar  to 
the  warrior  assemblies  of  the  Aryan  conquest  republics  in  northeast 
India.  Kramer  assumes  the  existence  of  a  military  aristocracy  during 
the  formative  period  of  prehistoric  Sumer.71  But  whatever  the  insti- 
tutional quality  of  these  legendary  assemblies  may  have  been,  no 
such  gatherings  dominated  the  Sumerian  city  states  when  they 
emerged  in  the  light  of  recorded  history.  To  quote  Jacobsen:  "The 
political  development  in  early  historical  times  seems  to  lie  under  the 
spell  of  one  controlling  idea:  concentration  of  political  power  in 
as  few  hands  as  possible."  72  In  each  of  the  early  Mesopotamian  city 
states  "one  individual,  the  ruler,  united  in  his  hands  the  chief  politi- 
cal powers:  legislative,  judiciary,  and  executive."  78  In  each  of  them 
the  king  handled  the  despotic  state  apparatus  through  the  agency  of 
an  effective  secular  and  priestly  bureaucracy,  "the  court  and  temple 
administrators  and  intellectuals,"  as  Kramer  calls  the  new  core  of 
the  "ruling  caste."  74 

Significantly  there  are  few,  if  any,  traces  of  assemblies  in  the  sim- 
ple hydraulic  society  of  historical  Sumer.  With  regard  to  Babylonia 
the  situation  is  otherwise.  Babylonian  inscriptions  refer  to  assem- 
blies, to  elders,  and — in  the  same  context — to  merchants.  Could  it  be 
that  the  growth  of  Babylonian  trade  also  increased  the  power  of  its 
representatives,  the  big  merchants? 

The  possible  extent,  and  the  limitations,  of  merchant  power  are 
indicated  by  the  Assyrian  merchant  colonies,  which  flourished  in 
Cappadocia  during  the  earlier  part  of  the  second  millennium  B.C. 
These  Assyrian  settlements  were  established  in  an  area  which,  al- 


though  lacking  political  unity,75  comprised  a  number  of  territorial 

The  Assyrian  traders  who  settled  far  to  the  north  of  their  home- 
lands did  not  dwell  inside  the  Cappadocian  towns.  The  walled  sec- 
tions were  reserved  for  the  native  population  and  for  the  palaces  of 
the  ruler.78  Moreover,  the  local  authorities77  inspected  the  trader's 
commodities  in  the  palace  and  also,  it  seems,  had  a  first  claim  on  any 
goods  they  wanted  to  sell.78  The  presence  of  such  local  authorities 
did  not  mean  that  the  colonies  were  independent  of  the  Assyrian 
metropolis.  In  the  end  it  was  Assur  that  decided  legal  cases  and  that 
had  the  power  to  impose  taxes:  78  "The  authorities  of  Assur  and  ulti- 
mately the  king  were  therefore  the  superiors  of  the  Assyrian  authori- 
ties in  the  commercial  centers."  80 

Within  this  over-all  frame  the  colonies  dealt  with  their  judicial 
matters  in  "a  general  assembly  of  all  colonists,"  81  the  karum;  and 
this  body  also  settled  other  communal  problems.82  Evidently  the 
members  of  these  Assyrian  trade  colonies  enjoyed  a  greater  autonomy 
than  did  the  merchants  of  Assyria  or  Sumer,  or — after  the  close  of 
the  Sumerian  period — Babylonia;  but  they  did  not  dominate  the 
Cappadocian  towns,  nor  were  they  politically  independent  in  their 
own  quarters. 

Babylonian  absolutism,  like  that  of  Sumer,  was  rooted  in  a  com- 
pact agromanagerial  economy;  and  private  property  probably  played 
a  secondary  role  in  agriculture  as  well  as  in  commerce."  In  any  case, 
no  serious  institutional  analyst  claims  that  the  assemblies,  and 
through  them  the  merchants,  controlled  the  Babylonian  govern- 
ment. The  king  and  his  men  dominated  the  administration,  the 
army,  and  the  fiscal  system.  The  king  was  also  the  lawgiver.  Further- 
more, he  and  his  functionaries  were  strategically  situated  in  the  ju- 
diciary. At  the  king's  service  "judges  of  the  king"  ruled  according 
to  the  "legal  practice  of  the  king."  83  But  the  royal  judges,  who  fre- 
quently combined  administrative,  military,  and  legal  activities,84  re- 

n.  Probably.  The  reasons  for  the  second  part  of  our  assumption  have  been  given 
above;  the  reasons  for  the  first  will  be  given  below  when  we  discuss  the  extent  of 
private  landownership.  Dr.  Isaac  Mendelsohn,  in  a  personal  communication  and  on 
the  basis  of  an  independent  examination  of  the  inscriptions,  believes  that  in  both 
spheres  of  Babylonian  economy  private  property  was  more  extended  than  the  com- 
bined property  of  the  state  and  the  temples.  No  doubt  the  facts  of  the  matter  have 
to  be  decided  by  the  period  specialists;  and  our  tentative  classification  of  Babylonian 
society  is  therefore  open  to  whatever  adjustments  future  research  may  postulate. 
But  assuming  for  the  sake  of  the  argument  that  the  private  property  sector  exceeded 
the  public  sector,  there  is  still  no  need  to  change  our  evaluation  of  the  subordinate 
political  position  of  the  Babylonian  merchants.  In  the  same  personal  communication, 
Dr.  Mendelsohn  rejects  an  interpretation  of  Babylonian  society  as  democratic. 

CHAPTER    7,   G  269 

lied  for  the  settlement  of  local  issues  heavily  on  local  assemblies. 
These  bodies  dealt  primarily  with  legal  matters.85  Operating  under 
the  king's  control,  they  constituted  "a  kind  of  civil  jury."  ° 

The  members  of  these  assemblies  were  "elders,"  "notables,"  "mer- 
chants" (under  a  head  merchant),  and  "men  of  the  gate."  86  Accord- 
ing to  Cuq,  these  designations  refer  to  separate  groups  that  acted 
either  alone  or  in  combination.87  Whether  Cuq's  interpretation  is 
correct  or  not  and  whatever  the  terms  "elders,"  "notables,"  or  "men 
of  the  gate"  may  mean,  for  our  present  purpose  it  is  sufficient  to 
know  that  the  assemblies  were  essentially  judicial  bodies  and  that 
among  their  members  there  were  merchants  headed  by  an  akil 

In  early  Babylonia  the  akil  tamgari  seems  to  have  been  the  direc- 
tor of  the  Department  of  Commerce  or  the  Department  of  Finance, 
and  as  such  the  chief  of  the  fiscal  bureaucracy.88  He  headed  the  ordi- 
nary merchants,  who  undertook  commercial  expeditions,  "at  times 
exclusively  in  the  interest  of  the  crown."  p  He  thus  was  a  prominent 
official  through  whom  the  absolutist  regime  exerted  control  over  the 
country's  traders. 

Occasionally  an  assembly  dealt  with  issues  that  concerned  a  whole 
town;  and  its  merchant  members  would  therefore  be  participating 
in  matters  of  considerable  local  importance.  However,  since  the  as- 
sembly was  presided  over  by  a  royal  governor  or  town  prefect  and 
since  it  acted  essentially  as  a  civil  jury,  it  certainly  did  not  control 
the  town  government;  and  the  merchants,  who  were  under  the  au- 
thority of  the  akil  tamgari,  were  not  free  to  control  even  their  own 
professional  spheres,  the  country's  trade. 

d.  Conclusions 

The  lessons  of  all  this  are  obvious.  Powerful  groups  of  rich  mer- 
chants may  control  the  government  of  their  commonwealth;  and  this 
may  happen  even  in  communities  that  fulfill  substantial  hydraulic 
functions.  But  as  far  as  we  know,  such  developments  did  not  result 
in  anything  that  can  be  called  the  rule  of  hydraulic  merchants.  The 
great  merchants  of  Venice  operated  in  a  societal  setting  in  which  hy- 

o.  Cuq,  1929:  361.  Occasionally  they  also  handled  political  crimes,  but  the  case  cited 
by  Jacobsen  involves  no  deeds,  but  words  only:  "seditious  utterances"  (Jacobsen, 
1943:  164). 

p.  Kriickmann,  1932:  446.  Was  the  head  merchant  of  the  king,  rab  tamqar  sa  iarri, 
who  is  mentioned  in  the  Neo-Babylonian  inscriptions,  the  successor  of  the  akil  tamqari? 
His  activities  were  obscure.  Ebeling  (1933:  454)  places  him  among  the  "high 
officials,"  adding  that  he  "probably  conducted  commercial  and  monetary  transactions 
for  the  king." 


draulic  institutions  were  submarginal.  And  Carthage,  although  cer- 
tainly more  hydraulic  than  Venice,  may  well  have  belonged,  either 
from  the  start  or  eventually,  to  the  submarginal  zone  of  the  hy- 
draulic world. 

Carthage-like  or  Venice-like  commercial  commonwealths  flour- 
ished in  considerable  numbers  at  the  geographical  fringe  of  hy- 
draulic society;  and  there  is  no  reason  why  such  commonwealths 
should  not  have  constituted  independent  heterogeneous  enclaves 
also  within  certain  zones  of  the  hydraulic  world.  We  therefore  do 
not  reject  Max  Weber's  assumption  that  independent  commercial 
communities  may  have  flourished  in  Buddhist  India.89  But  the  evi- 
dence adduced  is  not  conclusive;  and  in  a  number  of  cases  reexamina- 
tion reveals  that  the  position  of  the  merchants  is  far  from  being 
politically  dominant. 

Further  inquiries  into  the  political  role  of  merchants  in  institu- 
tionally peripheral  regions  will  certainly  deepen  our  insight  into  the 
diversities  that  exist  within  the  margin  and  the  submargin  of  the 
hydraulic  world.  They  may  also  shed  more  light  on  the  limitations 
of  mobile  private  property  even  in  those  hydraulic  societies  in  which 
private-property-based  commerce  became  more  important  than  gov- 
ernment-managed and  government-attached  trade. 


1.  Hydraulic  Landlordism,  Past  and  Present 

The  limitations  of  immobile  property  in  hydraulic  society  are 
equally  significant — and  equally  misunderstood.  The  institutional 
pioneers  who  viewed  the  despotic  state  as  the  only  major  landowner 
tended  to  neglect  the  problem  of  private  landownership  altogether. 
Modern  observers,  who  have  noted  the  paralyzing  influence  of  ab- 
sentee landlordism  in  the  Orient,  are  inclined  to  treat  as  a  basic  fea- 
ture of  hydraulic  society  what  in  many  cases  is  only  a  feature  of 
hydraulic  society  in  transition.  And  they  are  quick  to  interpret  in 
terms  of  past  (feudal)  or  present  (capitalist)  Western  institutions 
what  is  actually  a  specific  Oriental  development.0 

a.  To  mention  just  one  key  issue:  the  establishment  of  private  peasant  land  by 
means  of  a  thoroughgoing  land  reform  has  one  meaning  when  it  is  undertaken  by 
the  separate  forces  of  a  relatively  decentralized  postfeudal  or  industrial  society 
and  quite  another  when  it  is  undertaken  by  the  government-controlled  forces  of  a 
disintegrating  hydraulic  order  or,  for  that  matter,  by  a  totalitarian  state  of  the  Soviet 
type.  Major  changes  in  the  system  of  land  tenure  that  occurred  in  modern  Japan, 
in  Russia  under  the  Tsars  or  under  the  Bolsheviks,  in  Nehru's  India,  or  in  Communist 

CHAPTER    7,    H  271 

More  will  be  said  on  this  subject  in  our  concluding  chapter.  In 
the  present  context  we  are  concerned  essentially  with  the  roots  of 
the  modern  development:  the  extent  and  peculiarities  of  private 
landownership  prior  to  the  dissolution  of  hydraulic  society. 

2.  Government-controlled  and  Private  Land  in 
Hydraulic  Society 

The  extent  and  the  peculiarities  of  private  land  in  hydraulic  society 
can  be  properly  viewed  only  when  we  remember  the  extent  and  the 
peculiarities  of  hydraulic  state  power.  In  the  majority  of  all  hydraulic 
societies  the  despotic  regime  kept  private  land  in  a  quantitatively 
subordinate  position.  In  all  hydraulic  societies  the  despotic  regime 
limited  the  freedom  of  the  private  land  it  permitted  to  exist. 

a.  Types  of  Government-controlled  Land 

In  order  to  establish  the  extent  of  private  land  we  have  to  clarify 
the  extent  of  government-controlled  land.  This  last  comprises  three 
main  types:  (1)  government-managed  land,  (2)  government-regulated 
land,  and  (3)  government-assigned  land. 

All  land  that  is  kept  by  government  measures  from  being  alienated 
either  to  or  by  private  landowners  is  regulated  land  in  the  broad 
sense  of  the  term,  and  in  this  sense  all  government  land  is  regulated 
land.  In  a  narrow  sense,  the  term  "regulated  land"  will  be  applied 
essentially  to  that  part  of  government-controlled  land  that  is  man- 
aged not  by  the  government  but  by  possessors,  who  work  for,  or  pay 
tax  or  rent  to,  the  government.  The  term  "government-managed 
land"  will  be  applied  to  land  that  is  farmed  under  the  direction  of 
government  functionaries  and  for  the  immediate  and  exclusive  bene- 
fit of  the  government.  The  term  "assigned  land"  will  be  applied  to 
land  that  is  temporarily,  or  indefinitely,  assigned  to  officials  (office 
land),  to  representatives  of  the  dominant  religion  (sacred  or  temple 
land),  or  to  some  distinguished  persons  who  do  not,  in  return,  fulfill 
any  special  secular  or  religious  functions  (sinecure  land). 

i.  government-managed  land 

Government-managed  "public"  land  was  never  more  than  a  mi- 
nor part  of  all  regulated  land,  since  the  peasants  who  cultivated  the 
"public"  fields  also  needed  land  for  their  own  support.  Above  a  cer- 
tain agronomical  level  and  except  in  some  strategically  important 

China  are  frequently  treated  as  if  they  were  more  or  less  identical,  though  in  their 
societal  substance  and  effect  they  are  entirely  different  phenomena. 


regions,  the  hydraulic  state  preferred  the  payment  of  a  land  tax  from 
the  individually  cultivated  fields  to  products  from  public  fields. 

Imperial  China,  although  favoring  private  ownership  of  land, 
maintained  farm  colonies  for  the  support  of  the  army,  primarily  in 
border  areas,  but  at  times  also  in  critical  inland  areas:  at  places  that 
were  being  "pacified"  and  along  vital  lines  of  communication.  The 
tilling  in  these  colonies  was  done  either  by  soldiers  (in  which  case 
they  were  generally  called  "garrison  fields,"  t'un-t'ien)  or  by  civilians 
(in  which  case  they  were  frequently  called  "camp  fields,"  yin-t'ien). 
The  two  types  of  fields  together  occasionally  comprised  as  much  as 
one-tenth  of  all  cultivable  land,  but  in  most  dynasties  the  fraction 
was  much  smaller. 

Apart  from  military  colonies,  there  were  government  domains  for 
the  growing  of  special  crops,  and  parks  and  gardens  for  the  rulers' 
pleasure.  These  secluded  retreats  were  often  built  with  corvee  labor, 
but  usually  they  were  cared  for  by  professional  cultivators,  palace 
laborers,  and  slaves  6 — that  is,  they  were  government-managed.  But 
while  remarkable  in  this  respect,  they  were  spatially  insignificant. 
They  were  tiny  islands  in  a  sea  of  peasant  farms,  whose  occupiers  or 
owners  supported  the  government  not  by  their  labor  or  public  fields 
but  by  their  tax  payments. 


The  most  important  type  of  all  government-controlled  land  is  per- 
haps the  least  clearly  defined:  peasant  land  which  is  neither  managed 
by  government  officials  nor  assigned  to  groups  of  grantees,  nor  owned 
by  the  cultivators.  This  type  of  land  cannot  be  simply  equated  with 
the  land  of  village  communities,  since  not  all  peasants  who  possess 
regulated  land  live  in  integrated  village  communities — that  is,  in 
communities  that  distribute  and  redistribute  the  land.  Nor  are  all 
village  communities  under  the  control  of  the  government. 

Regulated  peasant  land,  in  terms  of  the  present  inquiry,  is  land 
that  a  holder  cannot  alienate  freely.  Often,  and  particularly  when 
the  land  is  periodically  redistributed,  a  holder  may  be  allowed  to 
lease  it  to  other  villagers,0  but  he  cannot  sell  it.d  In  other  cases  he 

b.  Royal  or  imperial  gardens  and  parks  have  been  described  by  many  authors.  For 
the  Mexican  lake  area  see  Ixtlilxochitl,  OH,  II:  209  ff.;  for  Pharaonic  Egypt,  Erman 
and  Ranke,  1923:  206  ff.;  for  ancient  Mesopotamia,  Meissner,  BA,  I:  201,  292;  Contenau, 
!95°:  53 ff-;  for  the  Islamic  Near  East,  Mez,  1922:  362  ff.;  for  Muslim  Spain,  Levi- 
Provencal,  1932:  223;  for  India,  Jatakam:  passim  and  Smith,  1926:  402  ff.;  for  Chou 
China,  Legge,  CC,  II:  127  ff. 

c.  This  was  customary  among  the  calpulli  members  of  Aztec  Mexico.  See  Zurita, 
1941:  88;  Monzon,  1949:  39. 

d.  For  an  elaborate  description  of  the  regulated  village  community  in  Tsarist  Russia, 
the  obshchina  or  mir,  see  Haxthausen,  SR,  I:  129  and  passim. 

CHAPTER    7,    H  273 

may  sell  it  but  only  to  other  villagers — that  is,  to  fellow  peasants.  In 
Byzantium  earlier  directives  were  restored  and  reenforced  in  922 
by  a  law  which  permitted  the  peasants  to  sell  land  to  the  following 
groups  and  in  this  order:  (1)  co-possessing  relatives,  (2)  other  co- 
possessors,  (3)  persons  whose  land  was  adjacent  to  the  land  to  be 
sold,  (4)  neighbors  who  shared  the  seller's  fiscal  responsibility,  and 
(5)  other  neighbors.1  These  regulations  made  it  impossible  for  a 
landlord  to  purchase  peasant  land  except  in  villages  where  he  was 
already  an  owner.2  As  long  as  they  worked,  they  protected  the  bulk 
of  the  peasant  land  from  falling  prey  to  the  expanding  forces  of  land- 

Similar  principles  were  employed  in  Hindu  e  and  Muslim  India. 
Bulwarked  by  the  law-enforcing  powers  of  the  state,  the  Indian  village 
community  "protected  small  farming  against  the  invasion  of  capital- 
istic interests,"  and  it  did  so  "by  maintaining  [for  the  villagers]  the 
rights  of  entail,  pre-emption,  and  preoccupation."  s 

The  cases  of  Byzantium  and  India,  which  could  be  supplemented 
by  data  from  other  civilizations,  demonstrate  the  negative  effects  of 
regulated  land  on  the  growth  of  private  landownership.  Wherever 
the  Orientally  despotic  state  insisted  on  keeping  the  bulk  of  all  land 
regulated,  private  ownership  of  land  was  kept  in  a  secondary  and  not 
infrequently  in  an  irrelevant  position. 


The  despotic  regime  that  is  able  to  regulate  all  or  a  large  part  of  the 
land  is  also  able  to  assign  portions  of  it  to  any  individual  or  group  of 
individuals.  Such  land  assignments  may  differ  in  purpose  and  dura- 
tion, but  usually  the  two  aspects  interlock.  Persons  who  serve  the 
government  may  hold  their  office  land  for  life  or  even  hereditarily. 
Others  may  hold  their  offices  only  for  a  short  term;  in  such  cases 
tenure  over  their  office  land  is  equally  brief.  Serving  men  who  fulfill 
military  functions  are  particularly  apt  both  to  obtain  and  to  lose 
their  office  land  suddenly. 

Land  grants  made  to  those  who  serve  the  gods  are  more  stable.  En- 
during religious  organizations,  such  as  temples  and  mosques,  are  al- 
most always  permitted  to  retain  their  grants  indefinitely. 

Sinecure  land  is  given  for  a  variety  of  reasons  to  a  variety  of  per- 
sons. The  grantees  may  be  so  distinguished  because  of  their  meritori- 

e.  See  Appadorai,  1936,  I:  133  ft.  The  alienability  of  land  has  been  seen  as  a  sign 
of  ownership,  whereas  it  may  merely  be  indicative  of  a  flexible  form  of  possession. 
Jolly's  (1896:  94)  interpretation  makes  allowance  both  for  the  (externally)  regulated 
and  the  (internally)  fluid  conditions  of  village  land.  He  assumes  "that  generally  the 
villages  were  shut  off  from  the  outer  world,  but  that  within  the  individual  villages 
there  existed  private  property  of  land." 


ous  acts  or  merely  because  they  are  the  ruler's  relatives,  friends,  or 
favorites/  In  all  instances  the  land  is  assigned  unconditionally.  The 
grantees  do  not  render  service  for  the  revenues  which  the  sinecure 
land  yields.  This  is  also  true  for  the  holders  of  pension  land.  But 
whoever  the  beneficiary  may  be,  the  government  remains  the  master 
of  the  assigned  land. 

Sacred  (temple)  land  is  usually  supervised  and/or  managed  by 
secular  government  officials.  This  has  been  established  for  Pharaonic 
Egypt,*  for  Ptolemaic  Egypt,5  for  Babylonia,6  and  of  course,  for  pre- 
Conquest  Peru  and  Mexico.  In  the  Islamic  world,  direct  or  indirect 
state  control  over  the  various  types  of  religious  property  persisted, 
with  many  modifications  in  detail,  until  recent  times.7 

Control  over  office  land  is  guaranteed  by  the  government's  opera- 
tional control  over  the  landholders.  A  normally  functioning  despotic 
regime  determines  the  fate  of  its  serving  men  and  the  lands  allotted 
to  them.  When,  at  the  close  of  the  Chou  period,  the  chancellor  of 
the  state  of  Ch'in  made  merit  rather  than  inheritance  the  essential 
basis  for  office,-9  he  met  with  no  conspicuous  resistance;  and  through- 
out late  Chou  China  the  decrease  of  areas  administered  by  holders 
of  office  land  8  were  accepted  with  equal  meekness.  No  organized 
group  of  "barons"  rose  against  the  imperial  unifier  of  China  when  he 
finally  and  decisively  discarded  the  office  land  system  in  its  entirety. 
Nor  did  Akbar's  decision  to  substitute  in  large  part  salaries  for  office 
land  9  meet  with  any  greater  challenge.  Akbar  went  far,  but  not  so 
far  as  the  Turkish  Sultan  Suleiman,  who  spectacularly  demonstrated 
that  a  well-functioning  despotism  could  abolish  office  land  as  easily 
as  it  could  create  it.10 

Sinecure  land  might  be  given  without  any  limitation  as  to  time. 
In  this  case  possession  might  come  to  an  end  when  the  ruling  dynasty 
fell.  In  Pharaonic  Egypt  this  seems  to  have  been  the  rule;  "  and  it  is 
not  unlikely  that  the  land  grants  in  ancient  Peru  would  have  suffered 
the  same  fate  if  the  Inca  regime  had  been  replaced  by  other  native 
rulers.  Often  sinecure  land  was  intended  to  support  the  recipient  as 
long  as  he  lived,  but  the  grantor's  death  might  terminate  the  assign- 
ment earlier.  The  land  grants  of  ancient  Hawaii  were  apparently  so 

f.  Cf.  Jatakam,  I:  56  (grant  given  to  the  king's  barber);  II:  193  (to  a  Brahmin),  270 
(to  a  princess),  457  ff.  (to  a  princess);  IV:  1  x6  (to  a  Brahmin),  309  (reward  for  finding  a 
precious  antelope),  415  (to  a  princess),  480  (reward  for  singing  a  special  verse);  V:  21 
(reward  for  useful  advice),  35  (to  ascetics),  45  (to  a  hunter),  374  (to  a  hunter);  VI:  135 
(to  a  barber),  355  (to  the  king's  brother  or  son),  422  (to  a  setthi),  438  (to  good  advisors), 
447  (to  an  advisor).  Cf.  ibid.,  I:  362  ff.,  424,  462. 

g.  Shih  Chi  68.4a;  Duyvendak,  1928:  15,  61.  The  "nobles"  whom  he  restricted  more 

CHAPTER    7,    H  275 

b.  Private  Land 


Land  that  is  government-managed,  government-regulated,  or  gov- 
ernment-assigned is  obviously  not  the  property  of  private  landowners; 
and  it  cannot  be  so  viewed,  even  when  possession  is  prolonged.  Per- 
manency of  possession  is  not  enough  (hereditary  tenants  also  enjoy 
this  privilege);  nor  is  the  right  to  alienate  enough  (holders  of 
regulated  land  are  sometimes  permitted  to  alienate  it  within  their 
social  group).  Only  when  the  proprietor  has  the  right  both  to  hold 
his  land  indefinitely  and  to  alienate  it  to  persons  outside  his  social 
group  do  we  encounter  what,  in  conformance  with  established  usage, 
can  be  called  full  private  landownership. 

ii.    ORIGINS 

The  commoners  and  nobles  of  early  Greece,  Germany,  Gaul,  and 
England  owned  their  land  not  because  of  the  decision  of  an  auto- 
cratic ruler  but  because  of  differentiations  within  a  tribal  society, 
which  produced  multiple  patterns  of  private  property  and  political 
leadership.  In  hydraulic  society  it  was  essentially  the  ruler  and  his 
functionaries  who  established  private  landholding  by  transferring  to 
individual  owners  what  was  previously  government-controlled  land. 

Individuals  usually  became  landowners  through  gifts  or  sale.  Entire 
groups  were  made  landowners  by  government  decree.  After  a  piece 
of  land  had  been  recognized  as  private  property,  it  could,  within 
government-set  social  limits,  be  transferred  from  one  private  owner 
to  another.  Large-scale  conversions  of  regulated  land  into  private 
land  are  relatively  rare  in  the  history  of  Oriental  society.  They  seem 
to  have  occurred  only  where  private-property-based  handicraft  and 
trade  were  well  developed. 

c.  Types  of  Landownership 


Who  then  are  the  potential  owners  of  land  in  hydraulic  society?  In 
Oriental  as  in  other  agrarian  societies  the  key  figure  in  the  basic 
subsistence  economy  is  the  peasant.  We  can  therefore  expect  him  to 
play  an  important  role  in  the  expanding  sector  of  private  land- 
ownership;  and  indeed  in  China  the  establishment  of  free  private 
land  involved  the  emergence  of  a  large  class  of  peasant  owners. 

and  more  (ibid.:  27;  Shih  Chi  68.8b)  are  said  to  have  hated  him  (Duyvendak,  1928:  23; 
Shih  Chi  68.6b),  but  his  measures  led  to  no  organized  "baronial"  rebellion. 



But  the  Chinese  development  is  the  exception  rather  than  the  rule. 
In  the  majority  of  all  cases  it  is  not  the  peasant  owner  but  the  non- 
peasant  owner  who  first  and  prominently  appears  in  the  private  land 
sector.  Evidently  the  more  complex  a  hydraulic  society  becomes, 
the  greater  the  number  of  social  groups  that  seek  to  be  landed 
proprietors.  But  one  group  among  them  is  outstanding:  the  civil 
and  military  functionaries  of  the  government  and  their  relatives, 
the  bureaucratic  gentry. 

Under  simple  conditions  of  property  few  others  are  rich  enough 
to  buy  land.  And  even  where  there  are  wealthy  merchants  or 
traders,  the  bulk  of  the  surplus,  and  consequently  the  bulk  of  the 
purchasing  power,  remains  in  the  hands  of  the  governing  class. 
Furthermore,  it  is  to  members  of  the  governing  class  that  the  ruler 
is  most  likely  to  make  gifts  of  land. 

Bureaucratic  landlordism  therefore  tends  to  appear  in  all  types  of 
hydraulic  society,  whatever  their  complexity.  It  prevails  completely 
in  those  simple  hydraulic  societies  in  which  private  land  is  at  all 
relevant.  It  is  a  significant  feature  in  many  semicomplex  hydraulic 
societies.  And  it  is  crucial  in  complex  hydraulic  societies  where 
privately  owned  land  outweighs  state-controlled  land. 

Data  on  landed  property  in  Pharaonic  Egypt  are  vague  even  for 
the  New  Kingdom.13  A  few  statements  that  are  specific  speak  essen- 
tially of  princes,  viziers,  and  other  members  of  the  governing  class 
as  owners  of  private  land.14 

In  Aztec  Mexico  private  lands  were  held  by  the  rulers,  their 
officials,  and  some  merchants.15  In  Hindu  India  the  Brahmins  did 
not,  as  was  the  case  with  priesthoods  in  many  other  hydraulic  soci- 
eties, live  on  large  and  permanently  granted  temple  lands.  Conse- 
quently, in  Hindu  India  land  grants  to  individual  Brahmins  fulfilled 
a  special  function,  and  it  is  not  surprising  to  find  that  they  were 
numerous.  Many  of  them  carried  only  the  right  of  possession,  but 
a  number  of  Brahmins  seem  to  have  owned  land  at  least  in  the 
last  phase  of  Hindu  rule.16  In  Byzantine  Egypt  the  "powerful  ones" 
who  had  large  estates  were  most  frequently  officials;  1T  and  this 
pattern  is  repeated  in  Islamic  times.  Among  the  persons  who,  during 
the  Mamluk  period,  acquired  private  land,  actual  or  former  holders 
of  office  land  were  prominent.18  In  Ottoman  Turkey  some  office 
lands  became  the  private  property  of  former  holders.19 

In  Middle  Byzantium  functionaries  were  for  a  time  forbidden 
without  special  imperial  permission  to  purchase  land  while  they 
held  office.  The  restriction  retarded  the  growth  of  bureaucratic  land- 

CHAPTER    7,    H 


ownership  but  did  not  prevent  it.20  In  Tsarist  Russia  the  edict  of 
1762  converted  the  pomeshchiki,  who  had  been  possessors  of  office 
land,  into  landowners.  In  later  imperial  China  government  func- 
tionaries were  forbidden  to  purchase  land  in  the  district  in  which 
they  officiated.21  Nothing  was  said  regarding  the  purchase  of  land 
outside  this  area;  and  the  evidence  at  hand  suggests  that  among  the 
owners  of  land  officiating  and  nonofficiating  members  of  the  govern- 
ment class  were  outstanding. 

iii.    OTHER    SOCIAL    GROUPS 

To  be  sure,  members  of  other  social  groups  also  owned  land,  if  they 
had  the  necessary  means  and  if  they  were  permitted  to.  In  semi- 
complex  and  complex  hydraulic  societies  rich  merchants  particularly 
were  likely  to  acquire  land;  and  information  on  Aztec  Mexico,22 
India,23  and  China  shows  clearly  that  they  did  so.  Moreover,  the 
measures  invoked  by  the  Han  dynasty  reveal  both  how  well  en- 
trenched this  type  of  landlordism  might  become  and  how  ruthlessly 
a  ruling  bureaucracy  might  combat  it.24  Of  course,  even  persons  of 
modest  wealth  might  buy  land.  In  traditional  China  persons  from 
all  walks  of  life  owned  small  pieces  of  land 



Occasionally  a  nonpeasant  owner  of  land,  who  for  some  reason 
or  other  was  deprived  of  his  occupation,  might  assure  his  support  by 
personally  turning  to  farming. h  Generally,  however,  nonpeasant 
landowners  left  the  tasks  of  cultivation  to  tenants.  In  many  cases 
they  were  absentee  landlords. 

In  Medieval  and  post-Medieval  Europe  tenancy  and  absentee  land- 
lordism were  also  widespread.  However,  many  landlords  personally 
managed  their  large  estates  (Giiter)  or  employed  stewards  for  this 

The  small  incidence  of  large-scale  farming  in  hydraulic  society  is 
due  primarily  to  the  high  crop  yield  obtained  by  labor-intensive 
methods,  which  are  in  part  required  and  in  part  stimulated  by  irriga- 
tion agriculture.26  These  methods  provide  extraordinary  advantages 
for  small-scale  peasant  farming  on  a  family  basis.  The  advantages  are 
so  striking  that  the  dominant  hydraulic  "economic  ethos"  (Wirt- 
schaftsgesinnung)  discouraged  large-scale  and  "manorial"  methods, 
even  when  they  might  have  been  profitably  applied. 

The  significance  of  this  attitude  for  hydraulic  society  in  transition 

h.  For  Brahmins  who  tilled  their  land  either  with  or  without  the  aid  of  farmhands, 
see  Jatakam,  II:  191  ff.;  Ill:  179,  316;  IV:  195,  334  ff.;  V:  70. 


is  obvious.  The  consolidation  of  landlordism  in  postfeudal  Europe 
encouraged  many  owners  of  large  farms  to  cultivate  their  land 
scientifically.  The  recent  growth  of  landlordism  in  many  hydraulic 
countries  intensified  the  acquisitive  zeal  of  the  absentee  landlords 
without  increasing  the  rationality  of  tenant  farming. 


An  interesting  variant  of  absentee  landlordism  appeared  in  Tsarist 
Russia.  The  pomeshchiki  of  Muscovite  and  post-Muscovite  Russia 
were  kept  so  busy  rendering  military  or  civil  services  that  they 
could  not  pay  much  attention  to  farming,  as  did  the  landed  nobles 
of  England  or  Germany.  In  consequence,  large-scale  and  scientific 
farming  was  extremely  limited  among  landholding  aristocrats  in 
Russia  prior  to  1762,  and  despite  some  expansion  it  remained  the 
exception  long  after  this  date. 

Baron  Haxthausen,  who  made  his  famous  study  of  rural  Russia 
in  the  1840's,  was  struck  by  the  difference  between  landlords  in 
Russia  and  in  the  rest  of  Europe.  Although  unaware  of  the  peculi- 
arities of  Oriental  despotism,  he  clearly  recognized  that  Russia's 
landowning  aristocracy  lacked  a  feudal  tradition: 

The  Russian,  the  Great-Russian  nobility,  is  not  a  landed  nobility 
[Landadel]  now,  nor  in  all  probability  was  it  ever  one;  it  had 
no  castles,  it  did  not  pass  through  a  period  of  knighthood  and 
[private]  feuding.  It  always  was  a  serving  nobility,  it  always 
lived  at  the  Courts  of  the  Great  Princes  and  the  smaller  princes 
and  in  the  cities,  rendering  military,  Court,  or  civil  services. 
Those  among  them,  who  lived  in  the  countryside,  peacefully 
pursued  agriculture;  but  in  actuality  they  were  either  insignifi- 
cant or  unfit.  Even  today  the  majority  of  the  Great-Russian 
nobles  have  no  rural  residences,  no  [manorial]  economies  as  we 
see  them  in  the  rest  of  Europe.  All  the  land  that  belongs  to  the 
noble — cultivated  land,  meadows,  forests — are  left  to  the  peasant 
village  community  that  works  it  and  pays  the  lord  for  it.  Even 
if  the  lord  owns,  and  lives  in,  a  country  house,  he  still  does  not 
have  a  [manorial]  economy,  but  rather  lives  like  a  rentier.  Most 
nobles  have  country  houses,  but  they  live  in  town  and  visit  the 
country  house  only  for  weeks  or  months.  This  is  the  old  Russian 
way  of  life  of  the  aristocracy!  27 

The  Russian  nobles'  peculiar  detachment  from  the  land  they 
owned — together  with  the  fragmenting  law  of  inheritance — kept 
them  from  becoming  "a  real  landed  aristocracy,"  as  Haxthausen 

CHAPTER    7,   H  279 

knew  it  in  Central  and  Western  Europe.  "I  do  not  think  that  there 
is,  in  any  major  country  in  Europe,  less  stability  of  their  land  than 
in  Great  Russia."  28 

It  is  against  this  background  that  we  must  view  the  two  great 
agrarian  changes  accomplished  by  the  Tsarist  bureaucracy  in  the 
second  half  of  the  19th  and  the  beginning  of  the  20th  century:  the 
emancipation  of  the  serfs  from  their  former  landlords  (in  1861)  and 
Stolypin's  reform  (in  1908).  In  both  cases  resistance  was  great;  but  in 
both  cases  the  new  measures  were  introduced  by  members  of  the 
same  governing  class  that  comprised  the  bulk  of  all  landlords. 


Absentee  landlordism  is  quickly  apparent,  more  quickly  than  the 
exact  proprietary  quality  of  a  particular  piece  of  land.  How  many 
of  the  land  "grants"  of  Pharaonic  Egypt  or  Buddhist  India  were 
given  with  the  intention  of  establishing  possession?  How  many  with 
the  intention  of  establishing  ownership?  The  records  often  fail 
to  provide  definite  information  on  these  points.  And  even  when  they 
suggest  the  right  of  ownership — how  secure  was  this  right?  Segre, 
in  comparing  the  proprietary  developments  under  Oriental  ab- 
solutism and  in  classical  Greece,  concludes  that  "private  property 
in  a  sense  approaching  to  classical  ownership  could  not  exist  as  long 
as  the  king  could  exercise  the  power  of  withdrawing  rights  either 
to  land  or  to  liberties  or  change  these  terms  at  will."  29 

Brahmin  property  was  believed  to  be  safe  from  confiscation.  But 
this  did  not  prevent  Hindu  rulers  from  seizing  Brahmin  land  for 
"treason,"  which  the  king's  judiciary  had  no  difficulty  in  establishing 
when  it  suited  his  purposes.30  In  Pharaonic  Egypt  private  landowner- 
ship,  although  perhaps  more  extensive  than  in  Hindu  India,  was 
equally  insecure.  Indeed  it  was  "basically  nothing  but  an  exceptional 
transfer  of  royal  prerogatives,  a  transfer  which  as  a  matter  of  princi- 
ple could  be  reversed  at  any  time  and  which  was  often  reversed  when 
a  new  dynasty  came  into  being."  31  In  such  cases  it  is  manifestly  hard 
to  draw  a  sharp  line  between  possession  and  ownership. 

Another  difficulty  arises  from  the  fact  that  in  certain  hydraulic 
societies  the  right  to  alienate  private  property  in  land  is  spread 
unevenly.  Nonpeasant  landlords  may  be  free  to  buy  land  from  other 
landlords,  whereas  the  peasants  who  live  in  a  regulated  rural  order 
enjoy  no  corresponding  right  of  alienation.  In  hydraulic  society 
such  mixed  patterns  create  a  major  classificatory  problem  only  when, 
as  in  Late  Byzantium  and  in  Russia  after  1762,  the  land  held  by 


landlords  comprises  a  large  part  (perhaps  more  than  one-half)  of  all 
cultivated  land.  When  this  is  the  case,  we  can  speak  of  an  incipient 
pattern  of  complex  hydraulic  property  and  society. 

d.  The  Extent  of  Private  Landownership  in   Various 
Subtypes  of  Hydraulic  Society 

The  categories  of  government  and  private  land  developed  so  far 
enable  us  to  advance  beyond  our  initial  tentative  position  and  to 
correlate  with  greater  precision  and  fuller  evidence  the  advance  of 
mobile  and  immobile  private  property  in  various  hydraulic  civiliza- 
tions. Germs  of  private  landownership  were  present  even  in  hydraulic 
societies  in  which  private-property- based  industry  and  commerce  were 
of  little  consequence,  but  they  did  not  assume  major  dimensions. 
This  confirms  the  validity  of  our  concept  of  "simple"  patterns  of 
hydraulic  property  and  society.  In  hydraulic  civilizations  with  a 
substantial  sector  of  mobile  property  and  enterprise,  private  land- 
ownership  frequently  remained  a  secondary  feature,  and  occasionally 
an  insignificant  one.  This  confirms  the  validity  of  our  concept  of 
semicomplex  patterns  of  hydraulic  property  and  society.  Furthermore 
it  confirms  our  contention  concerning  the  relative  scarcity  of  the 
complex  configuration — a  configuration  in  which  immobile  private 
property  is  as  prominent  in  agriculture  as,  in  its  peculiar  way  and 
with  its  peculiar  limitations,  mobile  property  is  prominent  in  in- 
dustry and  trade. 

On  the  basis  of  these  results,  we  shall  contemplate  briefly  the 
extent  of  private  landownership  in  some  of  the  major  hydraulic 
civilizations.  In  this  survey  certain  crucial  data  that  were  adduced  in 
the  discussion  of  our  key  criteria  have  to  be  mentioned  again.  But 
they  now  appear  in  a  new  context  and,  in  a  number  of  cases,  they 
are  supplemented  by  important  additional  information.  In  accord- 
ance with  our  previously  established  concepts  we  shall  advance  from 
simple  to  semicomplex  and  eventually  to  complex  conditions  of 
property  and  society. 


Hawaii:  Ancient  Hawaii  certainly  knew  private  possession  of  land. 
But  it  is  doubtful  whether  there  existed  full  landownership,  since 
the  "estates"  even  of  the  most  powerful  territorial  "chiefs,"  the 
governors,  "reverted  to  the  king"  after  the  holder's  death  and  since 
"at  the  accession  of  a  new  king  ...  all  the  lands  of  an  island"  were 

Inca  Peru:  As  stated  above,  sinecure  lands  were  held  privately  and 

CHAPTER    7,    H  28l 

indefinitely,  but  the  holders  of  such  lands  lacked  the  right  to  alienate 
them.  Thus  they  were  not  owners  but  permanent  occupiers. 

Sumer:  At  the  close  of  the  Sumerian  period,  genuine  private  land- 
ownership  emerged.33  However,  the  governments  of  the  earlier 
temple  cities  seem  to  have  exercised  a  strict  control  over  the  cul- 
tivable land.  The  records  so  far  deciphered  fail  to  reveal  the  exist- 
ence even  of  such  private  landed  possessions  as  have  been  docu- 
mented for  Inca  society. 

Pharaonic  Egypt:  In  addition  to  government  land  proper  and  to 
government-assigned  land  (temple  land  and  office  land),  there  was 
private  land  which  could  be  alienated,3*  but  the  king  could  cancel 
a  holding  at  any  time.  Generally  speaking,  private  landownership  was 
more  the  exception  than  the  rule.35 


India:  Numerous  inscriptions  document  for  the  last  southern  phase 
of  Hindu  India  what  was  already  certain  for  the  Buddhist  and  post- 
Buddhist  periods,36  namely  that  "most  villages"  were  occupied  by 
ryotwari 37 — that  is,  by  peasants  who  were  under  the  direct  control 
of  the  state.  This  implies  that  private  landownership  can  have 
existed  only  in  a  (not  very  large)  minority  of  all  villages. 

Mesopotamia:  At  the  end  of  the  Sumerian  period  and  in  Baby- 
lonian society  private  landownership  is  clearly  apparent.  Did  it 
become  the  dominant  form  of  land  tenure?  Evidence  to  this  effect 
would  lead  us  to  class  this  period  not  as  semicomplex  but  as  com- 
plex. However,  available  data  seem  at  best  to  indicate  semicomplex 
patterns  of  property.  At  best.  If  state  trade  equaled  or  exceeded 
private  trade  during  a  large  part  of  the  Babylonian  period,  we  would 
be  faced  with  an  advanced  simple  or  an  incipient  semicomplex  situa- 

For  Late  Sumer — the  Third  dynasty  of  Ur — the  texts  frequently 
mention  private  property  in  fields  a  well  as  in  houses  and  gardens.38 
But  although  the  temples  were  no  longer  alone  in  leasing  land,  they 
are  still  most  frequently  mentioned  in  this  respect.1  For  Babylonia, 
Meissner  finds  that  the  best  and  largest  tracts  of  lands  were  in  the 
hands  of  the  government  and  the  temples.  "What  still  remained  of 
the  land  was  private  property."  39  Schawe's  analysis  of  the  tenancy 
conditions  of  the  period  seem  to  confirm  Meissner's  view:  in  Baby- 
lonia land  was  rented  out  "primarily  by  the  state  and  temple  domains 
and  then  also  by  private  individuals."  *° 

i.  Schneider,   1920:   58.  Hackman's  (1937:   21  ff.)   numerous  references  to  fields   un- 
fortunately are  often  vague  concerning  their  property  position. 


Cuq  stresses  the  specific  position  of  land  that  was  made  private 
through  royal  gift.41  At  the  same  time  he  mentions  among  the 
features  that  led  to  differentiations  in  land  tenure  the  emergence 
(or  reemergence?)  under  the  Kassites  of  communities  which  he  char- 
acterizes as  tribal  and  kinship-based,42  but  which  he  also  compares 
with  the  Russian  mir  43 — that  is,  with  a  purely  administrative  type 
of  village  community.  The  details  of  the  Kassite  rural  units  are 
still  obscure,44  but  we  know  that  they  were  interlinked  with  the 
governmental  apparatus  through  certain  of  their  leaders  and  that 
they  regulated  the  landed  possessions  of  their  members  in  ways  not 
too  different  from  those  of  the  Mexican  calpulli  and  the  Inca  ayllus. 

During  the  last  phase  of  Babylonian  history  the  two  types  of 
government-controlled  land  still  prevailed — if  what  the  Persians 
found  in  Mesopotamia  is  indicative  of  the  Neo-Babylonian  condi- 
tions. In  Persian  Mesopotamia  there  were  (1)  state  lands  that  in 
large  part  were  assigne.-  to  individuals,  (2)  "large  tracts  of  land" 
held  by  the  temples,  and  (3)  lands  "held  in  fee  simple  by  the  in- 
dividuals." The  first  two  categories  were  obviously  very  extensive: 
"With  much  of  the  land  held  by  the  state  and  the  temples,  the 
number  of  land  transactions  is  not  so  large  as  that  of  other  sales."  45 
Again  we  lack  statistical  data,  but  the  above  statement  suggests  that 
the  process  of  "privatization"  had  gone  further  in  mobile  than  in 
landed  property. 

Persia:  The  Persians  used  the  government-controlled  land  (and 
outside  the  Greek  cities  this  was  the  bulk  of  all  cultivated  land) 
very  much  as  had  the  Babylonians  and  Sumerians  before  them.  They 
assigned  it  to  members  of  the  royal  house  and  to  friends  of  the  king 
(obviously  as  sinecure  land),  to  officials,  resettled  soldiers,  and 
persons  obligated  to  provide  contingents  for  the  army  (obviously  as 
office  land).46  Knowing  the  conditions  under  which  office  land  was 
held  in  other  Oriental  despotisms,  we  have  no  reason  to  doubt  that 
this  land,  like  the  regulated  peasant  land,  was  what  Rostovtzeff  takes 
it  to  be:  state  land. 

The  Persian  office  land  was  not  a  feudal  institution,  nor  did  it 
inspire  a  feudal  order  among  the  Parthians.  The  big  Parthian  land- 
holders were  no  semi-autonomous  fief-holders  who  spent  most  of 
their  time  attending  to  their  personal  affairs.  Instead,  and  very  much 
like  their  Persian  predecessors,  they  were  government  officials.3 

;'.  Christensen,  1933:  307.  According  to  Christensen,  the  Parthian  government  was 
"despotic"  in  form,  at  least  as  long  as  the  Parthian  monarchy  was  united  (ibid.). 
Did  the  political  order  change  when  the  monarchy  disintegrated  into  several  territorial 
kingdoms?  This  is,  of  course,  possible  but  it  is  by  no  means  certain.  On  the  basis  of 
comparable  cases,  it  seems  more  likely  that  the  smaller  and  later  Parthian  kingdoms 

CHAPTER    7,    H  283 

Hellenistic  Monarchies  of  the  Near  East:  Private  .landownership 
was  confined  essentially  to  the  Greek  cities,47  which  were  few  in 
Egypt  but  numerous  in  Western  Asia.  Outside  these  Greek  enclaves, 
the  land  was  controlled  by  the  government  and  by  government- 
attached  temples. 

The  Seleucid  rulers  established  considerable  private  land  through 
grant  or  sale  4S  "on  condition  that  the  grantee  joined  his  land  to 
some  city  and  made  of  it  city-land"; 49  and,  of  course,  they  assigned 
office  land  to  soldiers  and  probably  also  to  civil  functionaries.50 

The  kings  of  Pergamum  do  not  seem  to  have  reduced  the  royal 
land  at  all.  "Like  the  Ptolemies,  they  must  have  gifted  the  (revocable) 
user  of  estates  on  King's  land  to  officials."  51 

In  Ptolemaic  Egypt  "private  land  originally  meant  house,  gardens, 
and  vineyard;  even  the  house  and  garden  of  a  Royal  peasant  were 
'private.'  Greeks  sometimes  called  it  property,  but  it  was,  like  every 
other  Ptolemaic  form,  not  property  but  user;  apart  from  the  Greek 
cities,  the  property  or  legal  estate  in  any  land  in  Egypt  never  left 
the  king."  52 

It  is  in  the  light  of  this  statement  that  we  have  to  view  the  exist- 
ence of  certain  "private"  grain  land.  Rostovtzeff  suggests  that  this 
type  of  land  had  existed  in  Pharaonic  Egypt;  53  and  what  we  know 
of  the  earlier  period  confirms  his  assumption.  However,  we  must 
remember  first  the  instability  that  in  Pharaonic  times  characterized 
landed  property  generally,  and  second  the  loose  way  in  which  the 
Ptolemaic  (Greek)  masters  of  Egypt  employed  the  term  "private." 

The  "private"  land,  whose  spread  the  Ptolemies  encouraged,  was 
"regulated  emphyteutic"  tenure  54 — that  is,  a  lease  of  "deserted  land" 
"for  a  long  period  (hundred  years)  or  in  perpetuity."  The  rights  over 
this  kind  of  property  were  "transferable  by  alienation  or  succession 
and  enjoyed  in  a  certain  measure  the  same  protection  as  owner- 
ship." 55  By  developing  emphyteutic  tenure,  the  Ptolemies  strength- 
ened the  trend  toward  landownership.  But  until  the  Roman  era,  this 
trend  does  not  seem  to  have  gone  beyond  a  relatively  strong  form  of 
"landed  possession."  56 

The  Roman  Interlude:  Under  the  Romans  private  property 
emerged  on  a  large  scale.57  The  reasons  for  this  extraordinary  de- 
velopment— and  for  its  limited  success — are  treated  below  in  con- 
nection with  the  discussion  of  complex  patterns  of  property. 

The  Islamic  Near  East  (the  first  centuries):  The  Arab  conquerors 

were  smaller  Oriental  despotisms,  with  certain  leading  families  hereditarily  holding 
the  top-ranking  positions  in  government  and  occupying  very  substantial  tracts  of 
office  land. 


of  Egypt  and  Syria  perpetuated  most  of  the  Byzantine  institutions,58 
including  patterns  of  land  tenure.  For  obvious  reasons  many  former 
holders  of  estates  fled,59  and  those  who  stayed 60  lost  the  right  to 
collect  the  taxes  for  the  government.61  Alongside  them,  prominent 
Arabs  established  themselves  on  deserted  private  estates  and  the 
old  state  domain.62  These  new  holders  bought  and  sold  land,  and 
they  held  their  property,  qati'a,63  hereditarily.64  But  the  qati'a  repre- 
sented an  emphyteutic  form  of  possession;  65  and  it  is  doubtful 
whether  holders  could  enlarge  them  by  freely  buying  peasant  land. 
Their  Byzantine  predecessors  had  been  forbidden  by  law  to  do 
so;  66  and  the  new  Arab  state  was  certainly  as  eager  as  the  officials  of 
Eastern  Rome — and  probably  better  able — to  protect  the  regulated 
villages.  Apparently,  the  qati'a  possessions  increased  in  extent,67  but 
they  remained  in  the  hands  of  a  limited  group  of  leaders.  The  mass 
of  the  Arab  tribesmen  lived  in  military  camps; 68  and  it  was  only 
after  several  generations  that  the  qati'a  were  spread  into  the  villages.69 

We  need  not  follow  here  the  step-by-step  rise  of  a  new  system 
of  landed  property,  whose  beneficiaries  were  both  tax  collectors  and 
holders  of  office  land.70  This  system  appears  clearly  and  consistently 
in  Mamluk  society. 

Mamluk  Society:  At  the  beginning  of  Mamluk  power  virtually  all 
the  cultivable  land  of  Egypt  was  divided  into  twenty-four  units, 
which  were  either  controlled  directly  by  the  sultan  or  assigned  as 
office  land.71  Private  land,  mulk,  was  "almost  absent."  fc  Its  later 
growth  was  accomplished  "mostly"  by  an  intricate  process  which 
required  a  holder  of  office  land  to  surrender  part  of  it  to  the  treasury 
before  he  purchased  it  from  the  government,  either  directly  or 
through  a  middleman.72 

But  while  mulk  continued  to  increase  until  the  end  of  the  period, 
it  remained  only  one  of  a  number  of  types  of  land  that  an  official 
(and  usually  a  military  official)  might  control.  In  addition  to  his 
office  land  (iqta')  and  to  his  mulk,  he  might  possess  pension  land,73 
and  he  might  also  be  the  manager  of  a  waqf  which  he  had  founded  74 
and  which  in  all  likelihood  would  yield  him  and  his  family  a  steady 

Ottoman  Turkey:  The  Turkish  sultans  demonstratively  established 
the  hegemony  of  state  land  by  officially  abolishing  the  bulk  of 
privately  owned  land."1  Some  "landowners  proper"  seem  to  have 

k.  Poliak,  1939:  36.  Poliak  assumes  that  private  lands  were,  at  the  beginning  of  the 
Mamluk  period,  "numerous"  in  Syria. 

m.  Gibb  and  Bowen,  1950:  236,  258,  n.  4;  cf.  Poliak,  1939:  46.  This  refers  essentially 
to  cultivable  land  and  pastures.  The  farmhouses  and  the  land  around  it  were  always 
mulk;  and  vineyard  and  orchards  were  usually  so  considered  (Gibb  and  Bowen, 
1950:  236). 

CHAPTER    7,    H  285 

existed  from  the  start;  7S  and  local  "notables"  (a'yans)  acquired  mulk, 
perhaps  through  conversion  of  office  and  other  land.76  But  until  the 
recent  period  of  transition,  most  of  the  land  was  controlled  by 
the  government,  which  assigned  part  of  it  as  office  land  or  waqf 
and  taxed  the  remainder  through  the  agency  of  its  tax  farmers." 

The  tax  farmers  had  many  prerogatives.  In  the  non-Arab  provinces 
they  might  transfer  a  vacant  peasant  farm  °  to  a  resident  of  another 
village,  but  "only  after  offering  it  to  the  peasants  of  the  village  to 
which  the  land  in  question  was  attached."  77  In  the  Arab  provinces 
their  position,  by  the  18th  century,  approached  that  of  holders  of 
military  office  land.  In  Egypt  they  were  given  one-tenth  of  all  village 
land  under  the  name  of  wasiya.  They  could  sell  this  wasiya  land,  but 
only  to  another  tax  farmer  and  only  when  they,  at  the  same  time, 
transferred  to  the  buyer  a  corresponding  amount  of  their  jurisdic- 
tional domain.78  In  the  Arab  provinces  the  fellahs  could  alienate 
their  land  "to  other  fellahs."  79  Regarding  the  Arab  territories,  Gibb 
and  Bowen  expressly  state  that  the  person  responsible  for  collecting 
the  taxes  "might  not  deprive  a  fellah  of  his  land,  except  for  non- 
payment of  taxation."  80  Thus  in  both  the  non-Arab  and  Arab  prov- 
inces the  majority  of  all  peasants  were  hereditary  occupiers  of  assigned 
or  regulated  state  land.81 

The  prerogatives  of  tax  farmers  and  of  holders  of  assigned  lands 
present  important  problems;  but  all  of  them  arise  within  the  con- 
text of  government-controlled  land.  Since  land  of  this  type  comprised 
the  bulk  of  all  cultivated  acreage,  we  feel  justified  in  saying  that  the 
Islamic  Near  East,  up  to  the  19th  century,  was  characterized  by  a 
semicomplex  pattern  of  Oriental  property  and  society. 

Maya  Society:  The  Maya  system  of  land  tenure  is  not  clear.8- 
There  probably  was  some  individual  landownership,83  but  most  of 
the  cultivable  land  seems  to  have  been  "common"  (regulated)  land.84 

Pre-Conquest  Mexico:  Early  sources  agree  that  the  bulk  of  all  land 
in  this  area,  as  in  Yucatan  and  Peru,  was  government  controlled. 
The  great  majority  of  all  peasants  (and  townspeople)  lived  in 
regulated  communities  (calpulli).85  But  there  were  also  certain  pri- 
vate lands,  tierras  proprias  patrimoniales,**  which  were  tilled  by 
mayeques*7  peasants  attached  to  the  soil. 

According  to  Zurita,  private  land  had  long  been  in  existence.88 
Did  it  originate  through  grant  or  sale?  And  how  freely  could  those 
who  held  it  dispose  of  it?  Local  officials  were  permitted  to  sell 

n.  Gibb  and  Bowen,  1950:  237.  The  authors  cite  a  statement  according  to  which  the 
"Sipahis"  used  to  convert  the  state  land  they  held  into  private  property  "in  later 
times"  (ibid.:  188,  n.  6).  Unfortunately  the  reference  specifies  neither  the  approximate 
date  nor  the  extent  of  the  development. 

0.  A  farm  whose  deceased  owner  was  without  heirs  (Gibb  and  Bowen,  1950:  239). 


calpulli  lands,  if  they  were  not  burdened  with  obligations;  and  as 
stated  above,  the  buyers  of  these  tracts — which  were  then  alienable — 
were  either  members  of  the  ruling  families  or  "some  officials  or 
merchants."  89  However,  most  of  the  calpulli  land  was  burdened 
with  serious  and  lasting  obligations  in  that  its  yield  was  destined 
to  support  either  the  members  of  the  calpulli  themselves  or  officials 
of  the  local  or  central  government,  garrisons,  or  temples.90  In  con- 
sequence, the  amount  of  land  available  for  sale  was  probably  small.91 

It  is  not  clear  to  what  extent  the  tierras  proprias  patrimoniales 
originated  from  the  sale  of  calpulli  land.  Some,  or  perhaps  even 
many,  of  these  private  holdings  may  well  have  been  grants  made  by 
the  rulers  to  distinguished  individuals.  In  contrast  to  the  allodial 
estates  of  feudal  Europe,  the  tierras  proprias  patrimoniales  remained 
under  the  jurisdiction  of  the  government;  92  and  in  contrast  to  the 
serfs  of  allodial  or  feudal  estates  the  Mexican  mayeques  served  the 
government  "in  time  of  war  or  need."  93  This  formula  is  compre- 
hensive. In  Aztec  Mexico,  as  in  other  hydraulic  societies,  the  govern- 
ment determined  one-sidedly  what  kind  of  services  it  needed. 

Not  being  office  lands,  the  private  holdings  were  not  kept  intact 
by  the  will  of  the  government.  And  not  being  allodial  or  feudal 
estates,  they  were  not  entailed  by  the  will  of  the  owner:  "no  son  de 
mayorazgo."  9'4  In  fact,  the  private  lands  of  ancient  Mexico  were  as 
similar  to  the  sinecure  lands  of  other  Oriental  societies  as  they 
were  dissimilar  to  the  strong  landed  property  of  feudal  and  post- 
feudal  Europe.  In  all  probability  they  represented  a  smaller  per- 
centage of  all  cultivated  land  than  did  private  lands  in  Babylonia 
or  in  early  Islamic  society.  According  to  one  estimate,  the  private 
holdings  in  ancient  Mexico  amounted  to  little.95  According  to  an- 
other, they  may  have  comprised  somewhat  more  than  10  per  cent  of 
the  total  cultivated  area.* 


Oriental  societies  in  which  there  was  less  private  land  than 
government-controlled  land  are  many.  Private  land  was  insignificant 
in  the  higher  civilizations  of  South  and  Meso-America  when  they 
were  overrun  by  the  Spaniards.  It  remained  a  secondary  feature  in 
India,  Sumer,  Babylonia,  Persia,  the  Hellenistic  monarchies  of  the 
Near  East,  and  Islamic  society.  In  the  early  phases  of  state-centered 
Chinese  society  it  appears  to  have  been  as  unimportant  as  it  was  in 

p.  This  figure  was  suggested  in  a  memorandum  on   land   tenure  in  pre-Conquest 
Mexico  prepared  for  the  present  inquiry  by  Dr.  Paul  Kirchhoff. 

CHAPTER    7,    H  287 

pre-Conquest  America;  and  when  China,  under  the  impact  of  Inner 
Asian  forces,  temporarily  discarded  the  free  forms  of  landed  property 
that  had  prevailed  at  the  end  of  the  Chou  period  and  throughout 
the  imperial  dynasties  of  Ch'in  and  Han,  regulated  patterns  of  land 
tenure  prevailed  again. 

Thus,  our  survey  confirms  what  we  tentatively  suggested  at  the 
start  of  our  discussion  of  hydraulic  land  tenure.  Prior  to  the  recent 
period  of  institutional  disintegration  and  transition,  private  land 
may  have  prevailed  in  the  Near  East  under  Roman  rule;  it  certainly 
prevailed  in  China  from  the  later  part  of  the  first  pre-Christian 
millennium  to  the  5th  century  a.d.  and,  after  an  interlude  of  almost 
three  centuries,  again  and  until  our  time. 

The  Roman  Near  East:  Did  such  classically  hydraulic  countries  as 
Egypt,  under  Roman  rule,  actually  develop  complex  patterns  of 
property?  The  conquerors  did  indeed  establish  private  landed  prop- 
erty within  the  terms  of  Roman  provincial  law;  96  and  in  Byzantine 
Egypt  prior  to  the  Arab  conquest  large  estates  were  certainly  held 
by  the  "powerful  ones,"  the  dynatoi.  But  how  widespread  was  land- 
ownership  at  the  beginning  of  the  Roman  empire?  And  to  what 
extent  did  it  prevail  during  the  5th  and  6th  centuries? 

Under  Roman  influence  private  land  was  created  through  grants,97 
through  transfer  of  cleruchic  land  (military  office  land),98  and  through 
the  sale  and  grant  of  other  government  land.99  This  was  a  far  cry 
from  Hellenistic  conditions;  but  even  scholars  who  emphasize  the 
qualitative  differences  10°  are  usually  careful  also  to  indicate  the 
quantitative  limitations.  The  greater  part  of  the  former  cleruchic 
land  was  taken  back  by  the  government  immediately  after  the  con- 
quest; 101  and  out  of  the  private  estates  that  temporarily  came  into 
being  as  the  result  of  grants  or  sales  "the  majority"  soon  again 
became  imperial  property.102  Thus  "the  best  land  continued  for  the 
most  part  to  form  the  royal  domain  and  to  bear  the  name  royal 
land."  q  And  since,  in  the  main,  it  was  the  larger  estates  that  were 
confiscated,  private  land  seems  essentially  to  have  been  held  by  small 
owners.  This  is  particularly  true  for  Egypt  and  Asia  Minor.  A 
greater  incidence  of  large  estates  is  suggested  for  Syria  and  Pales- 

The  existence  of  private  landownership  is  said  to  have  reached  a 

q.  Bell,  1948:  73.  On  the  basis  of  several  decades  of  additional  research  Bell  con- 
firms what  Mommsen  had  cautiously  noted  in  1885,  namely  that  the  imperial  domain 
constituted  "a  considerable  part  of  the  entire  area  in  Roman  as  in  earlier  times" 
(Mommsen,  1921:  573).  Johnson  and  West  (1949:  22)  refer  to  "the  retention  of  the 
great  bulk  of  arable  land  as  the  property  of  the  [Roman]  crown";  and  Johnson  (1951: 
92)  calls  "the  amount  of  privately  owned  land  in  Roman  times  .  .  .  slight." 


second  peak  on  the  eve  of  the  Arab  conquest,  especially  in  Byzantine 
Egypt.  What  actually  were  the  conditions  of  land  tenure  in  Egypt 
during  this  period?  The  peasants,  who  because  of  extreme  fiscal 
pressure  had  become  increasingly  reluctant  to  farm — not  a  few  ran 
away  from  their  villages — became  the  targets  of  elaborate  "reform" 
measures.  Government  control  in  the  form  of  compulsory  permanent 
tenancy  (epibole)  became  more  and  more  strict.104  Increasingly  the 
peasants  were  permanent  holders  of  land  which  they  were  forbidden 
to  leave.  As  coloni,  they  were  attached  to  the  land  which,  from 
then  on  and  within  the  confines  of  a  rigidly  regulated  village  com- 
munity, became  their  "private"  possession.105  The  continuing  fiscal 
burdens  caused  many  villages  to  look  to  "powerful"  protectors, 
primarily  members  of  the  governing  class,  and  to  the  church.100 
These  individuals,  who  were  designated  patroni  until  415,107  did  not 
exert  authority  everywhere — many  villages  remained  directly  sub- 
ordinated to  the  fiscus  and  the  imperial  administration.108  Nor  did 
they  integrate  "their"  peasants  into  a  typical  and  large-scale  manorial 
economy,109  although  for  lack  of  a  better  term  their  holdings  are 
usually  referred  to  as  "estates." 

The  edict  of  415,  which  acknowledged  the  position  of  large  land- 
holders, also  reaffirmed  the  government's  claim  on  the  fiscal  and  corvee 
services  that  the  landholding  coloni  had  previously  fulfilled.110  The 
holders  of  the  new  estates  were  delegated  to  collect  taxes  for  the 
government  from  their  coloni.  But  although  this  function  endowed 
the  new  landlords  with  great  power,111  the  state  upheld  its  fiscal 
rights  without  compromise:  "the  rate  of  taxation  was  the  same  for 
all."  112  Thus  with  regard  to  the  most  crucial  fiscal  aspect  the  estate 
holders  were  not  privileged:  "that  their  tax  rate  was  less  than  others, 
there  is  no  evidence  whatsoever."  r 

Under  Justinian  (to  be  precise:  in  538)  the  Byzantine  government 

r.  Johnson  and  West,  1949:  240.  In  the  2d  and  3d  centuries  the  tax  collectors  seem 
to  have  been  in  the  main  municipal  groups  or  individual  businessmen  who  had  their 
fiscal  duties  imposed  upon  them  as  a  "liturgy."  The  government  used  these  liturgical 
obligations  to  destroy  the  economic  strength  of  propery-based  groups  (Wallace,  1938: 
347  ff.);  and  it  transferred  the  fiscal  tasks  to  the  bureaucratic  landlords,  who,  being 
politically  better  connected,  succeeded  where  the  private  entrepreneurs  had  failed.  But 
these  landholders  were  in  no  sense  feudal  lords,  who  could  appropriate  the  bulk  of 
the  peasant  surplus  they  collected,  From  the  4th  to  the  6th  century  the  Byzantine 
collectors  were  generally  allowed  commissions  of  some  2  per  cent  on  the  collection 
of  wheat,  2%  per  cent  on  barley,  and  5  per  cent  on  wine  and  pork  (Johnson  and 
West,  1949:  328,  cf.  290).  Whether  these  rates  were  valid  for  Egypt  we  do  not  know 
(ibid.);  but  we  do  know  that  the  Egyptian  tax  collector  was  entitled  to  a  fee  of  one- 
eighth  to  one-twelfth  of  the  money  tax  he  raised  (ibid.:  268,  284),  that  is,  to  a  com- 
mission of  8  to  15  per  cent.  By  manipulation  he  could  raise  his  share  to  from  10  to 
20  per  cent  of  the  money  tax  (ibid.:  268,  284  ff.). 

CHAPTER    7,    H  289 

expected  a  tax  revenue  from  Egypt  that  was  larger  than  that  men- 
tioned for  the  time  of  Augustus.113  This  fact  involves  a  number  of 
questions  which  have  not  as  yet  been  solved.114  For  our  purpose, 
however,  it  is  enough  to  know  that  the  Byzantine  government  was 
able  to  tax  the  Egyptian  peasants  as  comprehensively  and  success- 
fully as  did  the  Romans  under  their  powerful  first  emperor. 

To  be  sure,  there  were  in  Egypt  at  the  close  of  the  Byzantine 
period  large  units  of  private  landed  property:  estates.  These  estates 
arose  under  a  bureaucratic  government;  they  were  held  mainly  by 
bureaucratic  landlords;  and  they  were  organized  in  a  conspicuously 
bureaucratic  way.8 

All  this  we  know.  We  do  not  know,  however,  "whether  these  estates 
of  Egypt  were  privately  owned  or  were  leaseholds  from  imperial  and 
ecclesiastical  properties,  or  even  from  small  farmers."  115  We  do  not 
know  either  whether  these  estates,  prior  to  the  Arab  conquest,  com- 
prised more  than  one-half  of  the  cultivable  land.  The  law  forbade 
the  estate  holders  to  purchase  peasant  land  at  will,  and  according  to 
Johnson,116  "there  is  no  evidence"  that  this  legislation  "was  ever 
a  dead  letter."  The  landlord's  proprietary  position,  even  if  it  had 
the  character  of  ownership,  was  legally  limited.  The  freedom  of  the 
villagers,  it  need  scarcely  be  repeated,  was  even  more  severely  re- 

The  historical  data  known  today  suggest  that  in  such  Near 
Eastern  countries  as  Egypt  private  landownership  did  not  prevail 
at  the  beginning  of  the  Roman  period  and  they  give  little  reason  to 
assume  that  this  type  of  ownership  spread  later  in  such  a  way  as  to 
even  temporarily  establish  complex  patterns  of  property  and  society. 

China:  Authentic  historical  records  state  that  in  the  4th  century 
B.C.  in  the  state  of  Ch'in  the  traditional  regulated  field  system  was 
abolished  and  that  from  then  on,  land  could  be  bought  and  sold 
freely.117  The  records  dealing  with  the  imperial  dynasties  of  Ch'in 
and  Han  imply  that  after  the  unification  of  China  private  land- 
ownership  prevailed  generally.118  When,  in  the  first  century  B.C., 

s.  Bell  finds  that  in  contrast  to  feudal  lordship  in  the  West,  which  "was  a  replica 
in  little  of  the  kingdom  to  which  it  belonged,"  the  estate  of  Byzantine  Egypt  "repro- 
duced in  little  the  bureaucratic  empire  of  which  it  formed  a  part;  its  organization  and 
its  hierarchy  of  officials  were  modelled  on  the  Imperial  bureaucracy.  Indeed  it  is 
sometimes  impossible,  in  dealing  with  a  papyrus  document  of  this  period,  to  be 
certain  whether  the  persons  whose  titles  are  mentioned  in  it  were  Imperial  officials 
or  the  servants  of  some  great  family"  (Bell,  1948:  123  ff.).  This  overlapping  of  titles, 
far  from  being  accidental,  reflects  an  overlapping  in  positions.  The  proprietors  of 
these  estates  were  for  the  most  part,  if  not  exclusively,  officiating  or  nonofficiating 
members  of  the  governing  class,  who  even  in  their  capacity  as  landlords  functioned 
as  semi-officials:  tax  collectors  and  leaders  of  the  hydraulic  and  nonhydraulic  corvees. 


merchants  accumulated  substantial  mobile  and  immobile  property, 
the  government  took  strong  fiscal  measures  to  reduce  their  wealth, 
and  an  edict  in  1 19  B.C.  forbade  them  to  own  land; 119  but  this  edict 
did  not  interfere  with  land  transfers  between  other  classes,  and 
even  in  the  case  of  the  merchants  it  seems  to  have  been  maintained 
only  temporarily. 

Unfortunately  the  historical  sources  leave  important  aspects  of 
the  agrarian  development  unexplained;  and  this  is  true  both  for  the 
first  period  of  complex  property  relations  and  for  the  subsequent 
regulated  agrarian  order  that  was  instituted  in  the  5th  century  a.d. 
and  endured  until  the  middle  of  the  8th  century.  However,  the 
information  at  hand  is  sufficient  to  illuminate  at  least  the  main 
trends  in  these  periods.120  During  the  last  millennium,  dynasties  of 
conquest  reserved  lands  for  their  tribal  supporters  and  for  some 
Chinese  who  had  joined  their  conquering  armies;  but  for  the  bulk 
of  their  Chinese  subjects  they  upheld  private  landownership.  It  has 
been  estimated  that  during  the  last  phase  of  the  Ch'ing  (Manchu) 
dynasty  the  combined  bannerland  of  the  Manchu,  Mongol,  and 
Chinese  bannermen  amounted  to  some  4  per  cent  and  privately 
owned  land  to  almost  93  per  cent.' 

Although  prior  to  this  phase  nongovernment  land  may  at  times 
have  amounted  to  no  more  than  one-half  of  all  land,121  and  although 
a  variety  of  legal  clauses  gave  the  right  of  preemption  (primarily) 
to  relatives,122  it  seems  evident  that  China  went  further  than  any 
other  major  Oriental  civilization  in  maintaining  private  ownership 
in  land. 

The  reasons  for  this  extraordinary  development  are  by  no  means 
clear.  But  certain  facts  are  suggestive.  In  China  the  critical  changes 
occurred  after  the  middle  of  the  first  millennium  B.C.,  when  several 
important  culture  elements  appeared  simultaneously:  plowing  with 
oxen,  the  use  of  iron,  and  the  art  of  horseback  riding.  We  hesitate 
to  dismiss  this  coincidence  as  inconsequential.  None  of  these  elements 
emerged  in  the  hydraulic  areas  of  pre-Conquest  America;  and  in  the 
Near  East  and  India  they  emerged  separately  in  the  course  of  a 
drawn-out  development.  In  both  areas  plowing  with  labor  animals 
was  known  from  the  dawn  of  written  history,  whereas  the  use  of 
iron  spread  later,  and  the  art  of  horseback  riding  later  still.  Could 

t.  Buck,  1937:  193.  The  estimate  used  by  Dr.  Buck  puts  privately  owned  land  at 
92.7  per  cent,  land  assigned  to  Manchu  nobles  together  with  some  "crown  land"  at 
3.2  per  cent,  "state  land"  (land  set  aside  for  the  maintenance  of  schools,  religious 
purposes  [state  cult])  at  4.1  per  cent.  These  data  are  approximate.  They  do  not  make 
allowance  for  private  ancestral  and  temple  land,  which,  according  to  the  same  source, 
amounted  to  less  than  .05  per  cent. 

CHAPTER    7,    H  291 

it  be  that  the  simultaneous  rise  of  new  techniques  of  agricultural 
production  and  of  military  coercion  and  fast  communication  (and 
the  assurance  the  two  last  gave  to  the  maintenance  of  government 
control)  encouraged  the  masters  of  Chinese  society  to  experiment 
confidently  with  extremely  free  forms  of  landed  property?  Whatever 
the  reason  for  the  fateful  step  may  have  been,  once  taken  it  was 
found  to  be  politically  workable  and  agronomically  and  fiscally 

The  Chinese  development — which  requires  further  investigation 
— is  remarkable  not  only  for  its  success  but  also  for  its  geographical 
limitations.  It  seems  to  have  affected  certain  southwestern  neighbors, 
especially  Siam.  But  many  cultural  contacts  with  more  remote  Asian 
countries  notwithstanding,  the  Chinese  system  of  private  landowner- 
ship  remained  essentially  confined  to  the  area  of  its  origin. 

3.  How  Free  Is  Private  Landed  Property 
in  Hydraulic  Society? 

Thus  private  landownership  was  present  in  many  hydraulic  civiliza- 
tions; but  except  for  a  brief  and  recent  period  of  transition,  the 
combined  private  lands  were  less  extensive  than  the  combined  public 
lands.  More.  Even  where  private  landownership  did  prevail,  it  in- 
variably was  prevented  from  achieving  the  kind  of  freedom  which  is 
possible  in  a  multicentered  nonhydraulic  society. 

a.    Despotically    Imposed    versus    Democratically    Established 
Restrictions  of  Private  Property 

To  be  sure,  in  no  society  does  an  owner  absolutely  dispose  over  his 
property.  Even  under  conditions  of  strong  property  the  owner  of 
bricks,  who  may  sell  or  store  them  or  use  them  in  building  his  house, 
may  not  throw  them  at  his  neighbor.  The  early  Roman  emphasis 
on  the  proprietor's  sovereign  position,  although  meaningful  fiscally, 
is  not  valid  societally. 

Even  fiscally  the  holder  of  strong  property  is  not  necessarily 
without  burdens.  In  most  free  commonwealths  some  public  func- 
tionaries have  to  be  supported,  and  when  this  is  the  case,  the  citizens 
may  have  to  draw  upon  their  property  to  satisfy  this  need.  Contribu- 
tions from  private  property  for  the  maintenance  of  the  government 
will  be  used  only  for  proven  essentials  when  the  property-based 
forces  of  society  can  keep  government  in  a  serving  position.  Such 
contributions  will  increase,  and  be  spent  more  freely,  when  an  im- 
perfectly controlled  government  partially  determines  its  own  budget. 
They  will  be  determined  one-sidedly  and  with  primary  concern  for 


the  interests  of  those  in  power  when  a  state  stronger  than  society 
prevents  the  representatives  of  property  from  protecting  their  inter- 
ests. It  is  under  conditions  of  the  first  type  that  we  find  strong, 
though  never  absolute,  property.  And  it  is  under  conditions  of  the 
third  type  that  property  is  weak.  In  hydraulic  society  immobile 
property,  like  mobile  property,  remains  weak  even  where  private 
landownership  quantitatively  outweighs  public  land  tenure. 

b.    Restrictions   Imposed    upon    the   Freedom    to    Enjoy,    to 
Use,   to    Transfer,  and   to    Organize 

Oriental  despotism  one-sidedly  restricts  the  landowner's  freedom 
to  enjoy  the  fruits  of  his  property,  to  decide  on  its  use,  to  will  it 
freely  (through  testament),  and  to  protect  it  by  means  of  political 

The  agrodespotic  government  demands  payments  from  all  land- 
holders, either  for  its  own  use  or  for  the  use  of  especially  privileged 
persons  or  institutions  (temples,  mosques,  churches);  and  it  deter- 
mines the  land  tax  one-sidedly,  according  to  its  own  (the  rulers') 
rationality  standard.  Tenancy  may  stratify  the  proprietary  sector;  and 
the  changing  strength  of  local  and  central  authorities  may  alter  the 
distribution  of  state  revenues  within  the  bureaucratic  order.  But 
neither  condition  affects  the  fundamental  arrangement  that  compels 
owners  and/or  possessors  of  land  generally  to  surrender  a  substantial 
part  of  their  revenue  to  the  representatives  of  the  state. 

Directly,  this  arrangement  aims  at  the  fruits  of  operational  landed 
property.  Indirectly,  it  also  influences  (and  limits)  the  use  to  which 
a  given  piece  of  land  may  be  put.  The  government  bases  its  fiscal 
demands  on  the  expectation  that  the  peasant  occupiers  (or  owners) 
will  grow  a  crop  capable  of  yielding  a  certain  return.  This  demand 
forces  the  cultivator  to  grow  the  standard  crop  or  an  acceptable  sub- 
stitute. Occasionally,  and  particularly  in  regulated  agrarian  orders, 
the  government  may  expressly  prescribe  that  certain  plants  or  trees 
(rice,  corn,  olives,  hemp,  cotton,  or  mulberry  trees)  be  cultivated; 
and  in  these  cases  the  proprietor's  freedom  to  determine  how  his  land 
should  be  used  is  nil.  Frequently,  however,  the  government  is  con- 
tent to  presc